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What Is Dracunculus Vulgaris?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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Dracunculus vulgaris is a visually distinctive member of the arum family native to the Balkans. This plant produces a startling purple to black spathe wrapping a long black inflorescence called a bract. The bract can be as long as 24 inches (61 centimeters), making the plant easy to spot in the garden. Blooming is also accompanied with a distinctive odor intended to attract flies for pollination, although usually the odor is mild unless someone is right next to the plant. Nurseries sometimes carry Dracunculus vulgaris and it can also be obtained through trades with other gardeners, for people interested in cultivating this plant.

This plant has a variety of common names including stink lily, voodoo lily, black arum, black dragon, dragonwort, and snake lily. It produces leaves in a spiral arrangement and will flower in spring or summer, depending on the climate. In nature, Dracunculus vulgaris usually grows alone, although gardeners sometimes cultivate it in massed plantings. The plant propagates both through the use of bulbs underground and the distribution of seeds above ground.

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The Dracunculus vulgaris plant can be grown in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones five through eight. It can take several years for a newly planted specimen to flower, especially if the climate is unusually warm. The plants like full sun to partial shade and can be grown as clumped or standalone specimen plantings in addition to being cultivated along borders. If a plant is not flowering after several years, it may need to be relocated to a different area of the garden.

Because of the smell, produced when the flower is at its peak, it is a good idea to refrain from planting Dracunculus vulgaris in immediate proximity to areas frequented by people. The purple-black flowers, while very dramatic, can also clash aesthetically with other plants and this should be considered when integrating the plant into a landscaping scene. Dracunculus vulgaris pairs well with evergreen foliage and simple herbaceous plants that will offset the distinctive blooms without competing visually.

People who are having trouble locating this plant at a nursery or garden supply store can try ordering through a catalog. Gardening exchanges, where people meet up to exchange gardening information, as well as specimens, can also be a useful resource. It is also possible to obtain seeds or bulb divisions from local gardeners; a stroll around the block may reveal one growing in somebody's yard, and gardeners are often happy to share with people who have an interested in their gardens.

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