I THOUGHT my dairy-farmer neighbors had spread the slurry stashed in winter, the unsweetest smell of a rural spring, but a reassuring one, since all that recycled animal “waste” makes great fertilizer. But then I went outside and the smell was gone—meaning it wasn’t moodoo after all but in fact voodoo. Specifically the voodoo lily, a potted plant sitting in my mudroom waiting for the weather to settle before they go outdoors, woke up way too early after the winter that never was.
Ugh. And also: Wow, that’s some smell. With the smell of dead meat, it’s intended for attracting flies, its desired pollinators.
The voodoo lily is Sauromatum venosum (also Typhonium venosum), originally from Southern India, and I stash pots of them and other not-quite-hardy bulb-like things in the cellar, where they spend the winter dry and cool and dark. This one might make it outside; it’s rated Zone 6A and I am a 5B, but I love these oddballs best shown off in containers.
Normally, the voodoo lily and the rest are only just stirring around now, but their long winter’s nap wasn’t as long as usual. In early March, I was down in the dungeon called my basement checking mousetraps—my one steady job these days, and if you don’t keep up with it, you’ll create a scent not dissimilar from the voodoo lily’s. I noticed someone botanical was already awake; a few inches of voodoo lily were showing in one pot (above).
Uh-oh; now what? I waited a week or so, to see if it just sat there at that growth stage, but no—it kept growing, bone dry (since November), and dark, but growing. Not long after that discovery, I carried it upstairs—not wanting it to stretch too much in the darkness, but completely forgetting what stinking outburst was to come.
I didn’t fall for it again; as other pots woke up over following weeks, I brought them into a shed, not the house.
My collection of potted pineapple lilies, or Eucomis (above) spend winter down in the cellar, too, alongside the voodoo lilies, and giant clumps of my one and only beloved Canna, known as “the banana canna.” They’re all just stirring now—and come to think of it, some of those smell none too good at bloom time, either (likewise, to attract flies). Thankfully, they’ll be out in the open air well ahead of then.
All of them also have great foliage–the voodoo lily’s is tropical-looking, with a hand-shaped fan (above) atop spotted stems (below, a hint of the stem with a cluster of seeds forming at the base). I highly recommend both voodoo lilies and pineapple lilies for conversation-starting summer pots you can enjoy year to year—as long as you get your timing right, and stay upwind.
ordering voodoo lilies
- Tony Avent at Plant Delights loves crazy plants like this (and also other “voodoo lilies” that I covet).
- Annie’s Annuals sometimes has it, too.
- Read more about Sauromatum on the Pacific Bulb Society website.