How to Grow and Care for Voodoo Lily

Voodoo Lily, Amorphophallus, Australian National Botanical Gardens

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While it has a striking, unique appearance, the voodoo lily (Amorphophallus konjac) may surprise gardeners with its smell—one that may seem to belong more in a wastebasket than a garden. This odor has a biological purpose, however, to play its part in ensuring that butterflies and bees don't corner the market on plant pollination. Flies and other insects are eager to join in pollinating, and the voodoo lily evolved as a result. Its odoriferous allure is designed to attract carrion beetles, blowflies, and other insects that normally seek out decomposing animals.

The inflorescence of the voodoo lily begins with its central green and white speckled stalk, which is shared by the other plants within its genus. A circular, petal-like structure called a spathe (which is a modified leaf) tops the stalk. At first glance, this spathe may resemble a calla lily, as it's composed of petal-like parts that are purple to reddish-purple in color. The spathe surrounds a spear-shape protrusion, called a spadix, which is sterile, and it's also the source of the lily's unique odor. Male and female flowers nestle deep inside the spathe where pollination occurs. The pollinated flowers develop clusters of berry-like fruit that change from bright pink to vivid blue. All in all, quite a show. After flowering, the single giant compound leaf emerges.

Gardeners eager for something different in their flowering container gardens should look no further than the curious and wonderful voodoo lily. Planted in spring, this unique species is easy to grow with the right care, although it takes three to five years to produce flowers at maturity. Just make sure you don’t place it too close to your home—or plan an outdoor wedding while the bloom is at its peak. Thankfully, this bloom only lasts for a couple of days, so gardeners can enjoy its eye-catching look from afar.

The bulbs, flowers, foliage, and stems of this plant are toxic to humans and pets, so it should also be placed in a safe area.

Common Name Voodoo lily
Botanical Name Amorphophallus konjac
Family Araceae
Plant Type Perennial, tuber
Mature Size 6 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial, shade
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time Winter
Flower Color Red, purple
Hardiness Zones 7-10 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets

Voodoo Lily Care

With proper care, voodoo lilies can be very long-lived plants. Dedicated gardeners who grow the giant corpse flower variety, Amorphophallus titanium, may end up with a tuber that weighs over 100 pounds. These plants have large foliage, so tubers should be planted deep in the ground. Areas with partial to full shade are best, and waterings should be thorough once the plant's soil has dried out.

Temperature is an especially important consideration for these tropical plants. While the voodoo lily blooms in late winter, it can not survive freezing temperatures. Gardeners should make a plan for keeping this species in areas above 60 degrees to see its unique bloom.

Light

Voodoo lilies are sensitive to sunburn, so partial to full shade is recommended for these woodland plants. Your voodoo lily can grow in areas with more light, but direct rays from the sun should not be constant in the afternoon (avoid south- and west-facing locations around your home).

Soil

Plant your voodoo lily corm or tuber 5 to 7 inches beneath the soil’s surface. If the corm isn’t deep enough, the top-heavy plant may pull free from the soil. For a container specimen, choose a potting mix rich with organic matter. In the garden, a shovelful of leaf mold or well-rotted gardening compost will provide a welcome boost of nutrients to the corm. The soil temperature should be above 60 degrees, so gardeners should wait a few weeks after the last frost of spring has passed to plant this species in the ground.

Water

Voodoo lilies grow best with thorough waterings spaced out between periods of drying out. Too much water can collect in the depressions that form on the tuber, leading to root rot. This species will likely require more frequent waterings in the summer. During the plant's dormancy period in late summer or fall, hold off on watering entirely.

Temperature and Humidity

Voodoo lilies are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 10, although the colder regions in these zones may not accommodate this species outdoors during winter. Warm temperatures and high humidity are best. In areas that aren't consistently humid, mist the plant's foliage with a plant mister regularly while letting the soil dry out between waterings.

Fertilizer

A monthly organic fertilizer rich in phosphate encourages a healthy root system (a 15-30-15 ratio is recommended). Your voodoo lily can still survive without fertilizer, but it's best to start with a diluted fertilizer in early spring before increasing the ratio of fertilizer to water through the summer. Once your plant goes dormant, hold off on fertilizing until the growing season begins again.

Types of Voodoo Lily

The genus Amorphophallus includes about 170 species, and the konjac variety known as the voodoo lily can grow up to 6 feet tall. Other species in its family can even reach heights of 8 feet. Voodoo lilies can differ in terms of colors, sizes, and stems. The following are common varieties of this plant that gardeners can grow at home:

  • A. henryi: The burgundy or violet-red spathe of this species is disproportionately large compared to its stem, which is about 2 feet tall.
  • A. konjac: This plant's shiny, reddish-purple bloom makes a statement on a stem about 5 feet tall. Several weeks after flowering, a single leaf stalk will emerge on a speckled stem. 
  • A. ongsakulii: Also known as a miniature voodoo lily, this species grows on a stem that only reaches about 3 inches tall. These small plants are commonly grown as tabletop specimens.
  • A. titanium: Also known as the corpse flower, this variety of voodoo lily is the largest, reaching heights of 8 feet tall.

Pruning

The flower can be removed after it fades, but take care not to cut the emerging leaf. When the leaf fades and the plant enters dormancy, withhold fertilizer and water sparingly. The corm may rest for several months before growth resumes. At this time, continue to water and fertilize as before.

Propagating Voodoo Lily

Voodoo lilies can be pricey plants when mature, but many nurseries also sell small offsets or tubers that are more affordable. Gardeners that grow this species from tubers may have to wait three to five years to see the first bloom appear on their plant.

The best way to propagate your voodoo lily plant is via tuber offsets. This process can begin once the plant enters dormancy. Gardeners should always remember to wear gloves when handling a voodoo lily plant, as all parts of this species are toxic. Here's how to propagate your voodoo lily's tubers to grow new plants:

  • Step 1: Carefully dig up your plant's tubers and select a tuber offset to propagate. Choose a section that has at least a few healthy roots growing already.
  • Step 2: Using a clean pair of gardening shears, remove the offset from the tuber system and foliage.
  • Step 3: Fill a heavy pot (ceramic and concrete materials are best) with soil. Ensure the pot allows for drainage.
  • Step 4: Plant the tuber offset 5 to 7 inches below the soil's surface.
  • Step 5: Water the soil thoroughly, then allow it to dry out before watering again. Place the plant in an area with temperatures above 60 degrees and maintain high humidity.
  • Step 6: Once new growth appears, fertilize the plant with a 15-30-15 ratio organic fertilizer diluted equally with water. Care for the plant as usual.

How to Grow Voodoo Lily From Seed

Voodoo lily can be grown from seed but it will take many years for the seedling to grow into a flowering plant. Here's how to do it:

  • Step 1: Collect seeds from your voodoo lily or purchase them from a reputable online source. Before planting, soak them in warm water for at least 24 hours.
  • Step 2: In a tray filled with moistened seed-starting mix, scatter the seeds on the surface of the soil and lightly cover with mix or vermiculite.
  • Step 3: Cover the tray with a plastic dome or layer of plastic wrap and place it in a sunny location. Keep the soil warm and moist (not wet) while you wait for seedlings to emerge. Germination can take several months.
  • Step 4: Once seedlings show themselves, remove the plastic and move the plants to bright spot out of direct sunlight.

Potting and Repotting Voodoo Lily

Tubers will also grow large over time, so gardeners will need to repot these plants in larger containers. Repot your voodoo lily during the plant's dormant period in the fall. Choose a pot that has plenty of room for the plant's roots to spread. Take care not to nick or cut the tuber, which can cause fungus and root rot or even be fatal to your plant.

The voodoo lily grows heavy on top in comparison to the size of its stem. For this reason, it's also important to place the corm in a sturdy concrete or ceramic container that won’t tip over easily.

Overwintering

Voodoo lilies have varying frost tolerance: Know your growing zone and give your plant winter protection indoors as needed. Since this plant blooms in late winter to early spring, gardeners should prepare for its unpleasant odor during bloom time by placing the plant in a protected area like a garage that does not share air circulation with their home.

Common Plant Diseases

The voodoo lily's notorious odor also helps keep this species free of pests naturally. However, your plant may be susceptible to root rot when its tubers are damaged during repotting or when it's overwatered. Take care to only water your voodoo lily once its soil has dried completely, then water it heavily (allowing for proper drainage). If the pot doesn't offer sufficient drainage, the roots can become waterlogged.

How to Get Voodoo Lily to Bloom

The voodoo lily is unlike many plants in that the flower appears first, and the foliage may not make an appearance for another month (or in some cases, up to a year later). Gardeners inexperienced with growing these tropical plants may give up, fearing the plant has died. However, after the bulb has a period of rest, it will send up a single stem bearing a fan of flowers. The plant blooms for about two days at a time, and at this time, gardeners will notice its pungent odor.

Sometime after blooming in late winter, the voodoo lily's corm, similar to a bulb, will emit a speckled stem called a petiole. This is followed by leaves that are divided and grow in a shape comparable to an umbrella.

It's not uncommon for voodoo lilies to take three to five years to bloom; once your plant has flowered, it may even neglect to bloom the following year. Practice proper care throughout the growing season, then ensure the plant is stored in a warm place once it enters dormancy to encourage a healthy bloom. Prune the flower after it dies off.

Common Problems With Voodoo Lily

While the voodoo lily is typically a low-maintenance plant for gardeners, it can still experience a few common growing problems. You may notice the following issues when growing this species:

Leaves Turning Yellow

Yellowed leaves is a classic sign of root rot, but if you've kept a proper watering schedule and your plant's leaves are still changing color, it could be a sign of other problems. Sometimes, the voodoo lily yellows due to a lack of nutrients. Feed your lily with fertilizer diluted in equal parts with water.

Burnt Leaves

The voodoo lily grows best in partial or full shade. If your plant is receiving too much light, it's common for its leaves to scorch or become sunburnt. Any crispy or dry, brown sections on the leaves can indicate that your plant needs a shadier location.

Leaves Falling Off

Changes in temperature can cause your voodoo lily to drop its leaves. This typically follows a period of the leaves changing color, however, extreme or sudden changes may lead to quick leaf drop. Always keep your voodoo lily in a location with temperatures above 60 degrees, and avoid transplanting it outdoors if the difference in temperature from your home is significant. It's best to grow this plant outside once the weather is warm enough; allow the plant to slowly acclimate to the natural changes between seasons.

FAQ
  • What does a voodoo lily smell like?

    Voodoo lilies emit an odor comparable to the smell of rotten meat. However, this odor only lasts for a few days while the plant is in bloom.

  • How often does a voodoo lily bloom?

    The voodoo lily blooms once each year, although young plants may take between three and five years to flower for the first time. The bloom comes after the foliage dies off in the fall, taking a few months of plant dormancy before flowering in late winter or early spring.

  • Is the voodoo lily rare?

    The voodoo lily is a rare plant in terms of growing naturally in North America, as this species is native to Asia. Many gardeners in the United States grow this plant around their homes, and offsets or tubers are often available at plant nurseries that cater to exotic plants.

Article Sources
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  1. Amorphophallus kiusianus. North Carolina State Extension Gardener.

  2. Pillay, Roshni et al. Little Known Dangers of an Exotic Poisonous Fruit: Lessons From Two Cases of Konjac Ingestion. Cureus, 2020, doi: https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.11972