How to Grow and Care for Dragon Lily Plants

Dragon lily (Dracunculus vulgaris)

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The dragon lily or dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) is a very unusual plant with stunning looks—and a surprisingly less-than-fragrant scent while blooming. This incredible plant rewards the brave gardener with unique flowers unlike any other lily variety out there.

These large plants can grow up to 6 feet tall and boast elongated, broad leaves. But it is the flower, or pseudo-flower, that is the star of the show. Similar to a peace lily in shape, the dragon lily produces a large, conical bract or spathe in a deep maroon or black-purple coloring that grows up to 2 feet long. Inside the spathe is a long, black appendage called the spadix that contains the actual inconspicuous, unisexual flowers.

Though most flowers smell pleasant when blooming, the dragon lily isn’t a flower you will want to sniff. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as a "stink lily." This plant releases a smell like that of rotting meat to attract flies for pollination, which (fortunately) dissipates after a few days. Though a fascinating flower to look at, it is best to keep this one away from windows, doors, or pathways to keep the scent from wafting your way.

Botanical Name Dracunculus vulgaris
Common Name Dragon lily, Voodoo lily, Stink lily, Black lily, Snake lily
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 4 to 6 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Rich, moist, well-draining
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Late spring, early summer
Flower Color Purple-black or deep maroon
Hardiness Zones 7 to 10, USA
Native Area Algeria, Southeast Europe, Turkey

Dragon Lily Care

Despite its exotic appearance, the dragon lily is quite easy to care for. These plants are naturally found by rivers, ponds, and forest edges and grow from tubers under the surface. Plant the tuber about 3 inches deep into well-draining soil, making sure to place the pointed end up. It is best to do this in the early fall to give the plant enough time to establish before the cold winter months arrive.

Besides consistent watering, the dragon lily does not demand much maintenance. When they receive plenty of sunshine and water, these stunning plants will bloom abundantly. The dragon lily is not usually affected by common pests or diseases. 

Light

Dragon lily plants prefer full sun, but can also be grown in partial shade. Keep in mind, however, that plants grown in full sun will need more water than those grown in partial shade.  

Soil

Rich, moist, well-draining soil is perfect for the dragon lily plant. Because they are naturally found by rivers and ponds, they do well in moist soil. However, it is quite tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and adapts well. 

Water

Water consistently and keep the soil damp, but not overly wet. Soggy soil can cause the tubers to rot. 

Temperature and Humidity

The dragon lily can be grown in hardiness zones 7 to 10 but can be grown further north by digging the tuber, overwintering it indoors., and planting outside in the spring. However, even in hardy zones, these plants still need protection in the winter. Apply a thick layer of mulch to provide insulation during colder months. Because the dragon lily likes damp soil and can be naturally found near water sources, it does well with humidity. 

Fertilizer

To give your dragon lily the nutrients it needs to produce its unique blooms, you should provide it with rich, organic matter or compost. Mixing a healthy layer into the soil during spring will give your plant the boost it needs. Well-balanced fertilizer will also do nicely. 

Is Dragon Lily Toxic?

The dragon lily can cause skin irritation when touched, so be sure to wear gloves when handling it. It is also toxic to animals if ingested. However, animals do not typically approach this plant due to its noxious smell.  

Propagating Dragon Lily Plants

Because the dragon lily grows from tubers, propagating is simple and most often done by division. It also self-seeds and produces offsets. It is best to divide the plant in either the spring or fall. Before you begin, make sure to wear gloves, as this plant is known to cause skin irritation. Here is how to propagate dragon lily plants:

  1. Using a garden fork or shovel, slowly work your way around the plant to loosen the tubers. 
  2. Once the plant can be easily removed from the ground, lift it out and shake away the dirt. 
  3. Inspect the tubers, making sure to dispose of any that are rotten. 
  4. Using your hands or a sharp knife, divide the tubers, making sure to keep foliage on each division. 
  5. Move each division to its own area, adding plenty of organic matter or compost to the soil first. Water thoroughly. 

Growing in Containers

Though large, the dragon lily does quite well when grown in containers. When choosing a container for these plants, be sure it has a drainage hole to allow excess water to escape. Mix plenty of fertilizer, organic material, or compost into the potting soil and place the tubers a few inches deep. Water thoroughly and allow the excess water to drain away. Continue to give these plants fertilizer every month during the growing season. By keeping your plant in a sunny location and not allowing the soil to dry out, you will have a healthy potted dragon lily.