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Pretty is as pretty does – unless it stinks

April 1, 2012
Messenger News

Nothing that comes out of boxes in basements surprises me. Or almost nothing.

It is a bit unusual, however, for a 6-foot plant to spring its odoriferous purple head out of a small cardboard box. The Purple People Eater would love it, assuming, of course, he could get past the smell.

My neighbor, Jeanette Utley, stopped by a while back with her little dog in tow and a fairly strange story to tell. Seems she was given a flower bulb years ago that grows quickly and often sprouts little bulbs around it. Every fall she digs the bulb, cleans off the dirt and excess root system and stores it in a cardboard box in her basement.

It doesn't need soil, she said. Just a quiet, dark place to spend the winter.

She'd pretty much forgotten this bulb until neither she nor her husband Ron could stand to go into their basement. The smell, she said, nearly gagged her. Finally giving in to curiosity, she went downstairs for a look around.

Imagine her surprise when she came face to face with a flower that looked like a lily, but was purple and taller than she. Pretty, but as stinky as could be.

Utley said the plant goes by several names - devil's tongue, voo-doo lily, snake palm, sacred lily of India. But a stinky plant is a stinky plant, no matter how pretty the flower. It grows quickly, she said, several inches a day.

But what she's used to seeing at the end of this growth spurt - and always in her yard - is a very pretty plant much like a palm tree. The huge purple flower really shocked her.

Or maybe more shocking was the fact that its huge stalk, almost 2 inches in diameter, grew without benefit of soil or water out of a cardboard box in her basement.

From now on, she'll know what to expect, even a bloom in her basement. But, if she's looking for anything new and interesting in plants or gardening equipment, she could run up to Pocahontas on April 14 for the sixth annual Garden Extravaganza at the Expo Center at the county fairgrounds.

Pocahontas County Master Gardeners and the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach sponsor this event that's full of fun stuff for any gardener, from plants to garden accessories - bird feeders, flower boxes, an array of good stuff to look at and buy.

The Extravaganza is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there's a small fee to get in. There are door prizes and garden presentations that will turn your few bucks into a wealth of information.

It's the kind of show my mom always liked because she had all kinds of plants in her house.

The one I remember most, however, hung just inside the door. Thick, dark green foliage that seldom dropped leaves. A pretty plant until the time it flowered, but no one could pin the rank odor on that plant. Who would believe something so pretty could reek as it did.

I'm betting Jeanette Utley would.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Sandy Mickelson is retired as lifestyle editor of The Messenger. She may be reached at



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