Voodoo Lily, Amorphophallus konjac

Voodoo lily in leaf.

Voodoo lily in leaf.

Voodoo lily is a perennial generally grown as a curiosity for its interesting foliage. Native to warm subtropical to tropical areas of eastern Asia, including Vietnam, Japan and China south to Indonesia, Amorphophallus konjac has been known by several other scientific names including A. rivieri, A. rivieri var. konjac, A. mairei, and Hydrosme rivieri as well as numerous common names including Devil’s tongue, dragon plant, elephant yam, konnyku, leopard arum, snake palm and umbrella arum (and some of the common names also refer to other species of arums).

The leaf stalk is mottled pinkish gray and olive green.

The leaf stalk is mottled pinkish gray and olive green.

The starchy tubers are edible and this plant is grown for food in some parts of the world, processed into a tasteless flour or stiff jelly (which can be used as a vegan substitute for gelatin). The Japanese use konjac flour to make shirataki noodles, and the starch is used to make a popular Asian fruit jelly snack.

This plant in the philodendron family (Araceae) produces a single leaf from a subterranean tuber (sometimes incorrectly called corms). The globose tuber can grow up to 50 pounds and a foot in diameter. The tuber shrinks away as the new leaf grows and during the growing season a new, larger tuber replaces it. The fleshy leaf stalk (petiole) is a very interesting mottled pinkish-gray and olive green. The single intricate leaf consists of a horizontal blade on the vertical petiole which is divided into three sections, giving an umbrella-like effect.

A single leaf is produced from each bulb.

A single leaf is produced from each bulb.

The leaf blade is deeply dissected and divided into numerous small leaflets. The petiole has multiple branches, so that large specimens resemble a small tree.

The large leaf spreads out to give an umbrella-like effect.

The large leaf spreads out to give an umbrella-like effect.

The size of the leaf is related to the size of the tuber, so the bigger the tuber, the bigger the leaf will grow, up to 4 feet across. Plants can grow up to 4-6 feet tall. Even in tropical climates voodoo lily requires a dry, dormant rest period every year. The leaf only lasts for one growing season and will naturally senesce in late summer or fall.

Larger tubers (about the size of a grapefruit or larger) may produce single inflorescence in late winter or spring before the foliage appears. A heavy stalk bears a large, shiny brown-purple to maroon ruffled spathe (a sheathing bract) up to 3 feet long surrounding the longer pale green to purple or mottled spadix (a flower spike with a fleshy axis). These monoecious plants have tiny individual female flowers (pistils) in a zone at the bottom of the spadix, another zone of stamens (the male flowers) and a sterile area at the top. When in bloom it produces an odor like a dead animal, the smell intended to attract the carrion flies that are its natural pollinators. If this is objectionable the flower can be cut off or covered with a plastic bag to confine the smell. Pollinated flowers will be followed by a globose berry, although this is rare in home-grown plants. It may be a month or more before the leaf emerges after flowering.

Amorphophallus konjac produces a single large, smelly flower from each bulb. Photos courtesy of David Waugh, Morningwood Farm, Mt. Horeb, WI.

Amorphophallus konjac produces a single large, smelly flower from each bulb. Photos courtesy of David Waugh, Morningwood Farm, Mt. Horeb, WI.

As a tender plant, the leaf is very frost sensitive (although buried tubers are supposedly hardy to zone 6), and must be grown indoors as a house plant or as a seasonal outdoor plant. It is easy to plant the tubers outdoors once the soil has warmed and dig them again in the fall once the weather cools. In the Midwest where the growing season is relatively short, it is often better to start the tubers indoors and move them outside once nighttime temperatures remain above 55F.They can be transplanted into the ground, be sunk in the container into the ground up to the rim, or be kept in containers on a patio or deck.

This small tuber has started to sprout with the pinkish growing tip just showing.

This small tuber has started to sprout with the pinkish growing tip just showing.

Voodoo lily does best in rich, organic soil or soil-less growing medium. Plant the tubers when the pinkish growing tips start to show. Because the roots do not come from the base of the tuber, but from the top and grow out horizontally to help support the leaf, the tubers should be placed deeply below the surface – approximately as far below the soil surface as the tuber is wide. The container should be at least twice the diameter of the tuber that is planted to accommodate the spreading roots. As warm weather plants they will only grow when conditions are warm enough. Voodoo lily tolerates most conditions from full shade to full sun, but does in partial sun. It also needs consistent moisture when growing and can even tolerate standing in water; potted ones can be sunken into a shallow water garden. It is a heavy feeder, and can be fertilized heavily through the growing season. The growing medium should be allowed to dry and no more fertilizer provided in the late summer or fall when the leaf begins to senesce. Containers outside should be tipped over to allow them to dry out completely. Do not cut off the leaf until is completely brown.

During the winter rest period the tuber can remain in its pot in the dry growing medium or can be removed from the growing medium and stored in peat moss. It is often recommended to wait until spring to separate any small new tubers from the parent. In any case, the tubers should be kept on the dry side so they won’t rot, in fairly warm conditions (42-50F).

Voodoo lily readily produces offsets. The plant is easily propagated by separating the snake-like, stoloniferous tubers with rounded ends from the parent plant. They can also be grown from seed, although this is not commonly available.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Flower photos courtesy of David Waugh, Morningwood Farm, Mt. Horeb, WI


Download Article as PDF


Additional Information

19 comments

  1. I’ve had this wonderful plant for 2 years now and it is very healthy, but I have yet to experience the flower blossom. How long does it take for it to produce?

  2. Great article, thank you! I have a question. I live in central Florida, moved to a new house in 2010 and the next spring I had this weird growth come up in the flower bed. It is a type of voodoo lily but i don’t know what kind. The flower is low to the ground, no stalk and the bottom portion of the bracket around the spath is below ground level. It would then send up a 3 – 4 foot leaf after it finished blooming. After the 3rd year it failed to “make an appearance” and I assumed it was dead. I did not know it was a tuber at the time. This year I have 8 leaves that have come up so far and more keep appearing, today there are 2 more spikes that showed up. None is more that a foot tall and they are all sprouting and crowded in about a 1 to 1.5 square foot area. Is it typical for these to “go dormant” like this? Is the tuber continuing to grow during this period of no foliage? Are all these leaves coming from one big tuber or did perhaps the main tuber die 5 years ago and these are offshoots that have grown big enough to do something? I suppose I could dig it up to answer if one tuber or many but do not want to disturbed it. Thanks if anyone can help!

  3. My voodoo Lily is in bloom in my garden. It has 5 blooms and is starting to stink. I will send pictures if I can.

  4. Mine fell. The Stamen is broke off. Is this a problem or can I just put it in a pot. It still has the pollen inside it. Please advise. This is my first one and it made me heartbroken.

  5. I was given a small voodoo lily last year by a friend. She did inform me that I had to dig up the tubers in the fall, but beyond that, I knew very little about how to replant it next spring and take proper care of it. This article was extremely helpful in that regard. I find it interesting that the tubers are edible. It is a truly fascinating plant.

  6. Yes, thank you! Mined is blooming and I had lots of questions. You have given me all the answers. Thanks again!

  7. Loved this article – I’ve been searching for a complete, comprehensive article for ages!. I live in New Zealand and last year was given a small plant (about 6 inches high) in exchange for some rare succulent pups and loved it so much, I went back the following week and bought another one.One plant now has five ‘babies’ and the second one has four. I transplanted them this year to a larger pot and the larger two are about two feet high. I have a question – if I assume my plants are now two years old, how long before the flowers appear? The mother plants that first broke through the soil are yellowing and tiny compared to the other offshoots. I don’t dig up and store my tubers as we have a sub-tropical climate, but I do leave the plant to over-winter in a sheltered site and bring it out again in Spring.

    • If it grows well each year, mine seem to reach flowering-size in 4 or 5 years – so I would guess 2 more years of growth.

  8. I have had these for many years, I have sold some of my big one for dollars, cant keep up with all I get each year. I seem to have all females, ever year I have more and more. I must have 40 now. small ones but a couple of large ones. I live in Michigan and I plant after danger of frost, and when they start to yellow at the end of the season I just pull on the stalk till it releases itself from the bulb. shake off dirt and put in a box and store in a cool dry place. I now have one that I think will bloom a flower this year, just wait and see. but I have had ones that have made huge flowers. One year I had them in a box in the attic about 20 ft. from the window. I went one day to see how they are doing and the flower with was huge was leaning against the window. you read it right the stalk grow 20 ft. to get to the window. I wish I still had the pic. but like I said I have sold the large one and one I got 1000 dollars from someone that had to have it.

    • I live in Michigan as well….mine has never been out of the ground on the North side of my house and it blooms beautifully every year!!

  9. I bought one of these lilies in the 1950s and still have it. I have moved at least 4 or 5 times and have taken tubers with me each time. So, the plants (or the offsets) are definitely long lived. I planted the tubers outside in WV and KY and each time they have not disappointed me with the flowering spathe and the interesting leaf pattern. Now to take some of the tubers to TN for their next venture.

  10. This was my first year with a Voodoo lily. It was given to me by a nurse friend. I really enjoyed watching it open up. I did not get a smelly flower on mine but really enjoyed the umbrella foliage. I hope I can use what I have learned from this article to have it for many years.

  11. Mine is 11 years old in Georgia red clay and multiplies every year. But this year the stems on 4 of them developed Orange seed pods that no one has ever seen before. They stayed 3 months but have now dried up and fell off. Was wondering if they are harmful to birds or pets. And if the plant can develop from seeds or just tubers.
    My sister’s is in Northwest Georgia in good garden soil 15-18 yrs. old but never seeded but I got mine from her.

    • I live In Texas and have recently seen this plant seen the orange seed pods, clustered together. I have collected the seeds, dried them, and planted. I am wondering if I will get a sprout from them.

    • The berries, tubers, and I believe leaves all contain oxalic acid crystals which, while not necessarily toxic, are extremely noxious and painful when eaten (though maybe not to birds, I don’t know that). The oxalic acid is neutralized by drying or cooking. The plant can develop from seeds, but they need to not dry out completely and the orange flesh around them can inhibit germination. Unless there are multiple plants blooming at about the same time, they generally won’t produce seed because the female flowers stop being receptive to pollen before the pollen is produced by the male flowers, thus requiring cross pollination. Mine grow very well outside in zone 6 and are effective enough in spreading by the offsets that they need thinned from time to time to keep from taking over their flowerbed.

  12. Very interesting article. We planted a Aloe plant and suddenly this began to grow with it. I transferred to a different pot. I’m in Florida and excited to see what happens to it.

    • Judy, I had one of these in the past – it was awesome! … I shared a house with several girls and I didn’t tell them about the lily 😉 When that thing started stinking, it was comical – nobody would believe me when I told them I intentionally planted that smelly thing!

      Good luck with yours, I think you’ll enjoy it! I’m shopping for more now, lol….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

While the University of Wisconsin Colleges and the University of Wisconsin - Extension do not regularly review content posted to social media sites, the administration shall have the right to remove any content from any official site for any reason, including but not limited to content deemed threatening, obscene, a violation of intellectual property rights or privacy laws, or otherwise injurious or illegal.

Public opinions/comments posted on this site do not necessarily reflect those of UW-Extension/UW Colleges.