I was visiting one of my doctor-friends at her office, and I noticed a faint peculiar odor. I finally had to ask her, “What is that smell? Did you forget to take out your biohazard containers?”
“No,” she said. “It is the Voodoo Lily that just bloomed outside the window.” Sure enough, right below her office window was a plant with a strikingly beautiful flower, but with the scent of a rotting dead mouse on a hot summer day.
I told her that she needed to dig that plant out. Even though its flowers were stunning, its odor was putrid! It would give patients the wrong impression about her clinic! The next day, the Voodoo Lily was promptly dug up and thrown away.
What is interesting about Voodoo Lily flowers is that they attract flies, not bees, for pollination. That is why they produce an odor similar to rotting meat. Their flowers are also ingenious traps that keep flies buzzing around until they pollinate all parts of the flower.
Voodoo Lilies flowers also produce heat, raising the air temperature in the flower by several degrees. Some botanists reported flower temperatures as high as 110°F (43°C) in cool shade! This increase in temperature makes flies more active. However, Voodoo Lilies attract flies for the sole purpose of pollination and is sometimes mistaken as being carnivorous.
To qualify as being carnivorous, a plant needs to:
1) Have a specific mechanism for capturing insects.
2) Secrete enzymes to breakdown the insect.
3) Digest and utilize the nutrients found in the insect.
Nearly all plants growing in your garden get their nutrition through their roots. Nitrogen, phosphorous, minerals and other nutrients are absorbed by expansive root systems found beneath the soil surface.
Roots are designed to search for rich deposits of nutrients and water. Once found, they gather available nutrients and send them to the upper parts of the plant to produce leaves, branches, flowers, and fruits.
Carnivorous plants, on the other hand, grow in acidic and very nutrient-poor soil. So, they need to get their nutrition by other means, mainly through their leaves.
Their leaves are designed to capture insects where they are broken down into a form that is easily absorbed. Though there are several methods carnivorous plants use to capture insects, they all use digestive chemicals, called enzymes, to increase absorption.
These enzymes are very similar to those found in your own digestive tract. Enzymes break down protein into smaller bits that are capable of passing through plants’ tough cell walls.
So, based on these criteria, the Voodoo Lily is not at all carnivorous. No parts of their flower have been found to secrete any chemicals that absorb nutrients, even though flies have been known to die in its flower from total exhaustion. Without digestive chemicals to absorb nutrients through its leaves, Voodoo Lily fails as a carnivorous plant.
Voodoo Lilies also attract flies by its gut-wrenching, meat-rotting smellng flower. Carnivorous plants, on the other hand, attract flies with a sweet nectar secreted by their leaves. No carnivorous plants produce a scent that even comes close to the putridity of a Voodoo Lily.
So next time you see, or smell, a Voodoo Lily, you can tell your friends why it is not a carnivorous plant.