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The mysterious, stinking bloom of Howard Lake
Monday, April 2, 2012

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, MN – John Johnson of Howard Lake inherited mysterious flower bulbs in 1971 from his dad, Waldo, who was moving from his home in Mankato.

Johnson was told the bulbs were African lilies. Waldo had received the bulbs from his sister, Mildred Steiner in the 1940s.

Steiner lived in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities, and her husband, George, who traveled working for Phillips Petroleum, may have picked the bulbs up on one of his routes, Johnson said.

The Steiners wanted nothing to do with the bulbs after one of them produced a stinking, putrid bloom in their garden, which is how Waldo became their owner.

Although the bulbs never produced a bloom for Waldo, the great, big leaves which shot up from the bulbs about 14 inches year after year were interesting, Johnson said.

After inheriting the bulbs when his dad moved, Johnson cared for them year after year at his home in Howard Lake, where they again produced only leaves and no blooms.

Finally, a few weeks ago, Johnson found something peculiar in his basement – one of the bulbs had sent up a long shoot.

Soon, a bloom appeared on the shoot, and burst open. It was a strange-looking flower – the deep purple, mottled bloom looked like a vase, with a long, solid deep purple, tongue coming out of the center.

It was an intriguing flower, and Johnson decided to display it in his house, but that soon turned out to be a mistake.

Within a couple of days, Johnson’s wife, LaDonna, told him they must have a dead mouse in the house, because it stunk.

Johnson remembered what he had always been told about why his aunt had given the bulbs to his dad – the flower stunk like rotting flesh – and told his wife to see if the smell was coming from the plant.

Sure enough, it was. LaDonna made John put the plant in the garage, but, within a few days, the flower no longer stunk, and he was allowed to bring the plant back inside.

Mystery solved

Due to the wealth of information available on the Internet, John soon learned that the plant is a variety of voodoo lily, although it is unclear which variety exactly.

It belongs to the same family as the corpse flower, which is often in the news for being the stinky attraction at zoos or other places with tropical plant exhibits.

As a matter of fact, the Minnesota Zoo planted a voodoo lily last spring, and there was a lot of news surrounding its stinky odor.

The zoo’s lily was ready to bloom again in early March, according to various news sources.

It may be that the reason Johnson’s voodoo lily was called an African lily is because it is native to Africa.

Many voodoo lilies are native to Asia, according to various online sources. The plants only bloom in fall or spring, when the leaves are absent.

The vase part of the bloom is called a spathe, and the tongue is the spadix. The inflorescence, or flower stalk, can reach up to 6 feet tall.

The actual flowers of the voodoo lily are arranged at the bottom of the spadix inside the spathe.

When John’s voodoo lily no longer stunk, the base of it was covered with small purple flowers, he said.

The odor emitted by the voodoo lily is meant to attract pollinators, such as flies and beetles, to pollinate the flowers.

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