An Olfactory Experience

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An Olfactory Experience

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Voodoo Lily, Corpse Plant, Leopard Palm, Snake Palm, Konjac or Devil’s Tongue! A plant with that many names is lucky to have a single botanical name: Amorphophallus konjac. I will call it the inoffensive name Konjac as per the the definitive book Aroids – Plants of the Arum Family by Deni Brown. This plant has been cultivated in China for more than 2,000 years!

Eric Perrette (Senior Gardener – Grower) at Powell Gardens’ greenhouses poses next to our first one to bloom this year. Eric is 6′-1″ so our flower is 5 feet tall! At this point he said he is “used to” to the unpleasant smell of the flower.

I asked Eric to give the flower a sniff and you can see the expression! The flowers smell (and look like) rotting flesh so they attract appropriate flies to pollinate them. This is the largest one we’ve grown; they grow larger over time until the bulb weighs about 22 pounds. The flower emerges from the dormant bulb in winter or early spring.

The foliage of Konjac is quite beautiful comprising the large plant in this container (taken summer 2008). You can see why another name for this plant is leopard or snake palm because of the beautifully mottled black on pink stems. The leaves emerge in spring and are a huge candelabra of foliage through the summer. The plants get larger and larger each year. They are marginally hardy, able to survive outdoors if planted in a sheltered spot near a warm foundation. We let our plants go dormant and store them in the greenhouse headhouse until the flowers begin to emerge — then we pot them up and move them into the greenhouses. This year they will be on display in the fragrance display! (Come see this plant on display this weekend.) The real nasty smell only lasts a couple days.

We also have two related species: the Elephant Yam Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, which produces an even larger bell-shaped, fluted flower. Its bulb can weigh up to 55 pounds and ours is not old enough to bloom yet. The largest flower of them all is Ammorphophallus titanum the Titan Arum, which always attracts national media attention when it periodically blooms at botanical gardens across the country. Our plant has years to go until it will flower and we will surely let you know when it does!