The Q&A Archives: I need to identify a Dark Red

Question: My friend gave me a blub from her

Answer: What you describe sounds like the plant commonly called Voodoo Lily. Dracunculus vulgaris (aka Arum dracunculus) is variously called the Dragon Arum, Voodoo Lily, Ragons, Snake Lily, Black Arum, Black Dragon, Dragonwort, & Stink Lily. In Greece it is called Drakondia, the dragon or serpent being the long spadex inside the enormous maroon-lipped spathe.

It is native to the Balkans, to Mediterranean Europe, Greece, the isle of Crete & the Aegean Islands, all the way to Southwest Turkey. In some places it's a veritable weed in its natural settings.

Though it looks like it ought to be tropical, it is not; & it transfers to the temperate garden with great ease, doing well in zones 5-8.

The very striking deep purple-black spathe sends upward a shimmering purple-black "jack" which can grow to as long as fifty inches, though a foot length is more likely & still mightily impressive. This black spadix extends from the rather vaginal spathe, leading this aroid to be called "amorphallus" in form.

Long before blooming, in March when these are merely foot-tall stalks or pseudostems, with as few as three leaves on top, the plants are already very pretty. The thick sturdy stalks look like those on certain jack-in-the-pulpits with a snakeskin pattern, & the leaves arranged in sets of three look like an ornate ruffly version of trilliums.

The leaves continue to develop into a spiral & have sometimes been described as looking like antlers. But the beauty at this stage barely hints of amazement to come, for you must first of all imagine a brightly colored spathe flower almost big enough to stick your head in (except you'd have to hold your breath from the odor within).

The eerie erotic beauty of this plant can be a little shocking. If this plant is not widely popular, it is because it needs to attract carrion-eating pollinators, so will briefly smell bad, for which reason the plant has been jestingly known as "Netta Stathams' Old Smelly," because Statham, a hosta breeder, grew so many of them.

Fortunately the dungy rotten meaty odor only occurs when the inflourescence is mature & lasts only long enough to attract a few flies, then the plant is satisfied & ceases to stink. Generally the bad odor only lasts one day.

Hope this answers all your questions about your mystery lily!

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