Another Weird, Wonderful and Poisonous Plant

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

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Yes, we’ve brought home another weird, wonderful and poisonous plant.

Its name says it all:  Sauromatum venosum.  Get it?  Venosum?

It is also called “Voodoo Lily” because it begins to grow, as if by some strange magic, without water or soil.

That is how we found it, actually.  It wasn’t on my shopping list per se…

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A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18" away from the first.

A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18″ away from the first.

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But as we were browsing the summer flowering bulbs offered in Brent and Becky Heath’s bulb shop yesterday, there they were:  the already growing flowers of Voodoo Lily reaching out of their bin for our ankles.

They put me in mind of cats reaching through the bars of their little cages at the animal shelter, vying for attention and maybe a new home….

How could I ignore them?  Some of these flowers were already more than 18″ long, poking out of the holes in their little red mesh bags.  Phototropic, they were reaching for the light.  They were ALIVE!

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This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot... which is how I missed planting it last night.  It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot… which is how I missed planting it last night.   It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

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Actually, some weird plantophiles (much like yours truly) will buy these Voodoo Lily tubers and simply set them, dry, on a shelf to watch them grow.  They will grow happily for weeks on the energy stored in their tuber.  Eventually, one must plant them up, of course.  Which is what I did with these poor little guys last night.

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See?  Not a hint of a root...

See? Not a hint of a root…  Like a Caladium, this is a tuber, not a true bulb.

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Keep in mind they’ve been growing in a bin of bulbs on the floor.  One mustn’t expect too much yet in terms in statuesque form.  The flowers will grow several feet high, open, release a putrescently musky scent for a few days, and then die back.  The scent is to attract the right insects for pollination, of course.

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April 9, 2015 planting 018

This flower stalk is only just getting started. It will grow to several feet high before dying back to the ground. Leaves will follow in early summer.

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Once the flowers have died back, one or more leaf stalks emerge and add a lovely tropical note to the garden for the remainder of the season.  Native to Africa, Sauromatum venosum remain hardy from Zone 7 south.  They will spread by tuber and by seed indefinitely.  Phototropic, they will reach for the light if grown in too much shade.

I hope that as these little guys get established and sink some roots into our garden soil, the flower stalks will lift themselves and continue growing towards the sun.  Plants will do amazing things, given the opportunity.

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Plant the tuber 2" to 3" in good, moist soil in bright partial shade.  Keep moist.  I've heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

Plant the tuber 2″ to 3″ in good, moist soil in bright partial shade. Keep moist. I’ve heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

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Whether the flowers right themselves or not, the leaves will still emerge properly by early summer and offer some interesting foliage in the garden for several months.  They will die back with the fall frost, but the tuber can remain in the garden, mulched, over winter.

So we’ve covered ‘weird’ and we’ve covered ‘wonderful.’  Why poisonous?

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Yes, another stump garden.  I've been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010.  That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous.  A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the 'Voodoo Lily' will complete the set.  I'll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.

Yes, another stump garden. I’ve been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010. That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous. A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the ‘Voodoo Lily’ will complete the set. I’ll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.  The decaying stump retains moisture and feeds the plants as it and the tree’s roots decompose.

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Poisonous plants don’t get eaten by miscreant deer who sneak into our garden for dinner. 

I’m becoming something of an aficionado on poisonous plants.  For more on this, you might enjoy an earlier post titled, Pick Your Poison.

After losing our early investments in Phlox and lilies, roses, impatiens, holly shrubs, tomatoes and Camellias; we realized that tasty plants disappear in the night.  Poisonous plants manage to grow all season.

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These N. "Katie Heath,' growing in our garden, were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother.  These have been growing in our garden for several years.

These N. “Katie Heath’  were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother. These have been growing in our garden for several years now.  We continue to plant lots of new daffodils each year to protect other plants, as every part of a daffodil is poisonous.

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So now it is a bonus when I find beautiful plants for the garden which also happen to be poisonous.  Like Hellebores and daffodils, all parts of the Voodoo lily are very poisonous.  Not only will they not get eaten to a nub; their roots offer protection from tunneling voles to nearby plants.

So there you have my take on the very weird, wonderful and poisonous Voodoo Lilies we brought home yesterday from our shopping excursion in Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop at their farm in Gloucester.

I’ll show you follow up photos of these lilies as they grow.

A pair are planted at the top of the garden, visible from the street.  If you’re in the neighborhood, you can keep a watch on them as they come along.  And if you smell something like rotting meat when you pass our garden, you’ll know they have come into full bloom.

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It's Alive!

It’s Alive!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

12 responses to “Another Weird, Wonderful and Poisonous Plant

  1. May cause skin irritation and toxic if enough is ingested. I don’t know if I would use the word poisonous.

  2. Wonderful and creepy! If it smells like rotten meat, I can’t imagine it is very popular, except to flies – lol. Good thing it is out by the road!

  3. I have always found myself being attracted to poisonous plants. That comes in handy when you live in a deer and gopher zone.

  4. Here ‘ Naked Ladies’ is the name given to Colchicums. I have a another sort of Voodoo lily which has clearly nothing to do with ladies, clothed or otherwise. Its name is Amorphophallus konjac.
    I can see why deer wouldn’ t eat these smelly plants.

    • Chloris you have taught me something today 😉 I hadn’t heard ‘naked lady’ applied to autumn flowering crocus as a common name, but I like it 😉 Any flower which appears suddenly, on its stem without the ‘clothing’ offered by accompanying foliage, certainly fits the name 😉 Amorphophallus konjac, another ‘Voodoo Lily’ for exactly the same reason, is one I’ve long admired but not yet grown. How tall does yours grow? These flowers have their own peculiar beauty- Thank you for visiting, Chloris. Hope you’re well and enjoying the weekend. Best wishes, WG

  5. Do you know if these voodoo lilies are the same thing as “naked ladies?” And what’s the verdict on Brent and Becky’s? Worth the trip?

    • Barbara, when you two come, please come to spend several hours visiting the 8 acres of beautifully crafted gardens and the shop. We were over an hour in the shop alone- This is a living horticultural text, and must be absorbed through close observation. It is a living plant catalog- encyclopedic. But it is gorgeously laid out. We should go together and let our husbands keep one another company in the shade. I didn’t make it through even half of the gardens on this visit. Can’t wait to go back as more of the perennials come out. ‘Naked Ladies’ is a term used mostly for Lycoris radiati- also called spider lily. I believe it can also be applied to Crinum lilies… These Voodoo lilies aren’t really very ladylike…. 😉 Here is more information: https://forestgardenblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/surprise/

    • By the way, did you find my email about the fly-in bluegrass festival? I know you’ve been busy, and your email stacks up fast as does mine. I”m headed your way today to shop for spring plants with my folks. We’re going to re-do their pots and window boxes for summer- looks like a GBGH day to me 😉 Giant hugs, WG

      • Sorry, E., I did get it and haven’t remembered to run it by R. yet. We will be just back from almost three weeks in Asia and will probably have mountains of work to do here BUT it sounds wonderful. I’ll get back to you soon, promise!

        • No rush, Barbara 😉 We have a couple of months here- just didn’t want you to think I had forgotten (again) to send the details….. This can be a last minute thing if you want to see how you’re feeling when you get back. We are planning to go and expect it to be a very nice day. Hugs, WG

  6. That’s really, really scary. Please be careful.

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