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Voodoo lily, corpse flower’s cousin, causing stink at San Diego Botanic Garden

Last November, San Diegans got the stench of the titan arum — or corpse flower.

This week, the corpse flower’s cousin, the voodoo lily, is raising a stink at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.

The plant, also known as the devil’s tongue or elephant yam, belongs to the same genus as the titan arum and emits a similar rotting scent as it blooms.


RELATED: Giant 'corpse plant' draws crowds in San Diego

Ari Novy, president of the San Diego Botanic Garden, said this is the first voodoo lily that bloomed at their facility, but the stench is not as potent as the corpse flower.

“The corpse flower, in the two days that it's smelling, fills up the whole room. You sort of walk into the room and it's like a punch in the face,” he said. “This one’s a more subtle kind of putrescence, let's call it. So you definitely smell it when you get close.”

Jacob Aere / KPBS
A voodoo lily at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, Calif. Feb. 18, 2022.

The stinky aroma is what attracts insects to pollinate the plant.


The lily is native to China’s Yunnan province, bordering Laos and Vietnam, and its tubers are often used in food dishes. Thankfully, the taste is much more muted than the smell.

Brandon Tankersley, the sommelier at Michelin-star restaurant Jeune & Jolie, was at the gardens to smell the flower, which he said had some violet-like floral notes among other smells.

“When I first got here, before that really putrid scent blossomed in a way, there was a kind of muskiness and almost like a chocolatey note,” Tankersley said.

The garden’s staff first noticed the bloom spike emerging from the soil on Feb. 5 and within 10 days, the plant grew more than 3 feet in height. Plants in this genus have the longest unbranched flower spikes in the world.

Voodoo lily, corpse flower’s cousin, causing stink at San Diego Botanic Garden

Novy said the average bloom of the plant only lasts three to four days, but it can take up to four years for the plant to flower. When grown in tropical conditions, mature plants generally flower yearly — around later winter to early spring.

The good news is that there very well could be more voodoo lily flowers on the way at the Botanic Garden as their facility has a handful of the plants.