The Curse of the Voodoo Lily

Think twice before you ever let this plant weasel its way into your garden. It will continue to haunt you every spring for years thereafter.

When we moved into our old house, a flower bed next to the carport was overgrown with weeds and old plantings. We dug and cleared it and then added some herbs and flowers. We let it go and each year it grew a little thicker.

Then one spring I noticed it. A stench. I was convinced we had body parts, if not an entire corpse, buried near the back door. I ignored it that year and it went away. The next year I blamed it on the cat’s hunting habits. One spring we even checked the nearby sewer pipe. Gradually I realized this had become an annual event. The year it got so bad that I couldn’t ignore it anymore I sent my husband hunting for it.

He found it–a gorgeous, elegant, dark magenta-colored lily. The Voodoo Lily had a swarm of flies, attracted by the odor, flying in and out of it and doing their job as well as any bee.

My Voodoos working their black magic

My Voodoos working their black magic

This very large and not-so-sweet wildflower is native to the Balkans, Mediterranean Europe, Greece, Crete, and the Aegean Islands. The Greeks call it the “dragon flower.” It’s similar to the Calla Lily, but more ruffled, and  has a very dark maroon, almost black, color.

I’m guessing that you’re thinking that I exaggerate the aroma description?

The late botany professor Bastiaan Meeuse of the University of Washington studied the sex habits of Voodoo Lilies for years. He described its particular aroma precisely:

“It smells like a mixture of cow dung, carrion, dead fish, manure and halitosis.” This greets visitors when they arrive at my back door in the spring.

Over the years, however, it’s become familiar, if not a friend, and an annual event that only lasts a week or two. It’s an event I definitely mark. We both have survived each other for another year.

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2 thoughts on “The Curse of the Voodoo Lily

    • They really are elegant-looking, aren’t they? Yes, I wish mine were just a little farther away from the house! I’ve read that they’re difficult to get rid of, although I think if you cut off that big seed pod, it would help–apparently the bugs and critters spread those around.

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