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The Voodoo Plant, or Devil's Tongue, is Possibly the Stinkiest Plant on Earth


The exotic Voodoo plant smells so bad, people in its native Southeast Asia have been known to faint away from its odor. The plant, also known as the Devil's Tongue, is about 4 feet tall, blood red, with a tongue-like fleshy spike rising from the center of a large leaf. One side is spotted with green splotches. This plant not only stinks, it's ugly. There's a Voodoo plant blooming at the Botanical Garden on the University of California at Berkeley campus, up in Strawberry Canyon. If you're driving in the area and catch a whiff of something that smells like road kill, you're getting close. The plant is supposed to smell like rotting flesh, to attract flies and beetles and other rotting flesh lovers. Instead of eating them, however, the plant needs the bugs to crawl inside it to pollinate its nearly hidden flowers.
The Voodoo plant belongs to Robert Ornduff, the director of the garden, who usually keeps it in his office, at least when it's dormant. Once a year, the professor coaxes the plant to blossom, something few people in this country can do - or want to do. Once the plant blossoms, it stinks like hamburger left in the refrigerator for a few months. Once the fun-loving professor has brought the Voodoo plant to flower, he dumps it in a building at the botanical gardens for a week because it stinks up his office. Judith Finn, assistant manager of the botanical gardens, then gets to watch as people wander in, check the bottom of their shoes, then glance up in shock when they realize the odor is emanating from a plant across the room.

Luckily for Finn, the plant's flower only lasts a week before it collapses, stink and all. But in the meantime, the public is invited to visit. Bring your own nose plugs.

One of the more interesting aspects of the plant, from a scientific standpoint, is the interest researchers have in the gene within the Voodoo plant responsible for generating heat in the plant. The heat is responsible for the odor, and scientists are wondering if they somehow might be able to splice the gene with fruit trees, for example, to make the trees more resistant to cold. So there is actually a good reason for the scientist to have this plant.