I’m Back, and I Come Bearing Purple Death Flowers

I’m baaaaack. My goal is going to be one post a week through the end of the summer. For my first post back from hiatus, I have something special for y’all: giant purple alien flowers that smell like rotting flesh!

While moving my stuff into the house in Walla Walla (yep, no more rural Oregon), I noticed the unmistakable smell of death. Some small animal had clearly crawled into the bushes, died, and was decomposing. We poked around a bit but couldn’t find the culprit so we didn’t think much more about it for the time being.

Not until the next day did we make the connection between the smell and the enormous alien flowers that were blooming in the yard.

DSC_0026 (681x1024)These things are wild. We’d been watching them grow all spring without being sure what they were; they started as tentacle-like spikes sprouting from the ground, then developed the pretty green-and-white striped foliage you can see in the picture, and finally grew enormous two-foot-long buds like alien pod things.

Then the buds opened into spectacular, death-scented flowers.

Turns out that this plant, Dracunculus vulgaris, is native to the Balkans and has variety of expressive common names like Voodoo Lily and Black Dragon. It is (of course) pollinated by flies, which it attracts by mimicking the color and smell of a rotting corpse. In fact, there was a cloud of flies buzzing around the flowers when I was taking photos, although I had trouble getting one in focus.

DSC_0027 (1024x768)The first spring in a new house, when you don’t really know what sort of plants are in the landscaping and every new thing that sprouts is a mystery to solve, is a lot of fun. According to the internet, the rotting flesh smell of our Voodoo Lilies should only last a couple days. We like our weird purple alien death flowers and can’t wait to see what strange thing appears in our garden next.



Leatherwood in Bloom

We have two shrub-sized plants here with similar names: leatherleaf and leatherwood. Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) is the shrub that carpets the bogs, green in summer and russet-brown in fall and winter. Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) is a plant of the forest understory, and most of the year I walk past it without even noticing it’s there, but at a certain point in spring it catches my attention.

004Its leaves don’t amount to much yet, but this is leatherwood in full flower, with tiny yellow-green blossoms along each twig.

002Not every flower is big or colorful – just look at the flowers of the wind-pollinated aspen in my last post for another example. There are all sorts of different strategies for plants to achieve pollination, and there are all sorts of different flowers as a result.