Voodoo lily brings rotting corpse smell to Minnesota Zoo

The new voodoo lily at MN Zoo

The new voodoo lily at MN Zoo

Just in time for spring, the Minnesota Zoo has acquired a flower that blooms and smells like something died.

Amorphophallus konjac--also known as Voodoo lily or Devil's tongue--landed at the zoo on Tuesday and is expected to bloom within the next few days. You don't want to miss this, because when it does, the air will be filled with the rotting scent of death.

"I read one thing that says it smells like Hannibal Lecter's compost pile on a hot afternoon," says Kim Thomas, horticulture supervisor at the Minnesota Zoo.


Cousin to Minnesota's native Jack-in-the-pulpit and the ubiquitous calla lily, voodoo lilies are native to Japan, China, and Indonesia, where they are used to create flour and jelly, and also as a substitute for gelatin.

From its base tuber, each year the voodoo lily produces a single leaf, which looks like a small tree. When the plant is mature, it produces an annual cluster of many small flowers atop the tree. The flowers stink, attracting insects for pollination.

"The smell is half the experience. Plus, they're super kind of grossly ugly," Thomas says. "The scientific name Amorphophallus means misshapen penis. The purple thing that comes up through the middle--all of a sudden it makes sense."

The flower has been placed in the zoo's Tropics Trail, which is an enclosed area of about 1.5 acres. Thomas expects the bloom to stink up at least half that space.

The flower was a donation from Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como. There, horticulturists remove the blooming plants each time they conservatory hosts a wedding or a party.