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Voodoo Lily Offers Trip to Smell Hell

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She's smiling now…Kim Thomas, the Minnesota Zoo's horticulture supervisor, plants the beginning-to-bloom voodoo lily on exhibit for all the world to smell. (Image credit: Minnesota Zoo.)

Visitors and staff at the Minnesota Zoo are in for an olfactory adventure in the next few days.

The zoo, located in Apple Valley, Minn., is home to a ready-to-bloom voodoo lily. If it were possible to make a horror movie for your nose, this giant Indonesian flower could be the star.

Although this is the zoo's first encounter with a blooming voodoo lily, horticulture supervisor Kim Thomas said colleagues at other institutions have painted a vivid picture of the flower's odor.

"They likened it to Hannibal Lechter's compost pile on a hot day, so that seemed to be very descriptive," Thomas told OurAmazingPlanet.

Voodoo lilies, like many other flowers of the Amorphopallus genus, such as the aptly named corpse flower, emit their horrific stench of rotting flesh, unbelievably, to make themselves more attractive.

Flies can't resist the smell of decay, and when they swarm around the tiny flowers that cover the voodoo lily's spadix, the large protuberance that emerges from its center, the insects pick up pollen, which they then spread to nearby flowers, helping to cross-pollinate the species.

Thomas said the lily, which is now about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall, has begun to open just a bit, but so far there's no smell.

The voodoo lily is planted along a pathway inside the zoo's glassed-in 1.5-acre tropical exhibit, adjacent to bright Bali mynah birds and komodo dragons.

"It's in the Southeast Asian tropical area, so it's in the right setting," Thomas said.

She put the flower in place this morning (March 23), and said she expects the lily to begin its stinky show next week sometime.

The zoo got the flower, already somewhat grown, just over a year ago. However, since voodoo lilies don't generally flower until they're about 5 years old, Thomas said it was a pleasant surprise to discover the lily was going to bloom.

"It's just been such a thrill for us," Thomas said. "It's something different that we've never had before, and it's very exotic looking. So it's been lots of fun."

Andrea Mustain is a staff writer for OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to LiveScience. Reach her at amustain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.