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Sauromatum venosum (voodoo lily)

A distinctive plant from upland areas of Africa and Asia, voodoo lily has flowers that emit a smell resembling rotting meat.

Sauromatum venosum (voodoo lily)

Sauromatum venosum (voodoo lily) (Photo: Cillas licensed under CC by 2.0).

Species information

Scientific name: 

Sauromatum venosum (Dryand. ex Aiton) Kunth

Common name: 

voodoo lily, monarch-of-the-east, red calla

Conservation status: 

Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Primary evergreen forests, meadows by rivers, secondary thickets and along the sides of paths.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

Intense irritation can be experienced when handling or consuming raw plant material of many members of Araceae (aroid plant family).

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Alismatales
Family: 
Araceae
Genus: Sauromatum

About this species

Native to upland areas of Africa and Asia, voodoo lily has flowers that emit a foul smell resembling rotting meat. This odour attracts insect pollinators such as flies. Despite its putrid smell, voodoo lily is popularly cultivated as an ornamental. Its popularity is due in part to it being one of the easiest aroids to propagate and one of the hardest to kill.

Synonym: 

Arisaema venosum (Dryand. ex Aiton) Blume, Arum venosum Dryand. ex Aiton, Desmesia venosum (Dryand. ex Aiton) Raf., Sauromatum guttatum var. venosum (Dryand. ex Aiton) Engl., Typhonium venosum (Dryand.

Genus: 
Sauromatum

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Widely distributed from tropical Africa to China, voodoo lily is reported to occur in various habitats including evergreen forest, riverine forest and wet savannah, mostly in damp or wet areas in the shade.

Description

romatum venosum (voodoo lily) leaf

Umbrella-like leaf of Sauromatum venous (voodoo lily) (Photo: Gere72 licensed under CC by 3.0)

Overview: A tuberous perennial with a large, umbrella-like leaf on a brownish-red speckled petiole (leaf stalk) that appears after flowering.

Flowers: The flowering parts consist of a spathe (hood-like structure) wrapped around a spadix (flower-bearing spike). The large, twisting spathe (up to 1 m long) is yellow to brown with reddish-purple spots. The purple spadix is slightly shorter or the same size as the spathe.

Fruits: Red to bright purple berries.

Conservation assessments carried out at Kew

Sauromatum venosum is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

Learn more about this project

Uses

Voodoo lily is cultivated as an ornamental. The tubers can be grown indoors as a curiosity; they can flower without soil or water, although the tuber should be planted and fed immediately after flowering if it is to be kept alive.

The roasted tubers of Sauromatum venosum are eaten locally.

This species at Kew

Sauromatum venosum is grown behind-the-scenes in Kew’s Tropical Nursery.

Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Sauromatum venosum are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

References and credits

Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1999). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 4 (R to Z). Macmillan Reference, London.

Image: Sauromatum venosum. Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid is licensed under Creative Commons by 2.0 Generic license. Available online.

Image: 'Sauromatum venosum, la foglia' by Gere72 is licensed under Creative Commons by 3.0 Unported license. Available online.

Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Thacker, H. (2009). Sauromatum venosum. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). Sauromatum venosum. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 5 March 2012).

Kew Science Editor: Malin Rivers and Patricia Malcolm
Kew contributors: Anna Haigh
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions. 

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