DRACUNCULUS VULGARIS - The Dragon Lily



If you are looking for a plant that is unusual in effect and habit, yet is still capable of surviving the winters of a northern European climate, then you can do a lot worse than consider the sinister looking dragon lily! Related to the arum lilies, it is is the most spectacular of all from this family of European aroids.

It is native to the Balkans, extending as far as Greece, Crete and the Aegean Islands, and also to the south-western parts of Anatolia. In fact, it is from Greece that this fascinating plant has received its name. Here, the plant is called Drakondia, as the long spadix is viewed as being a small dragon hiding inside the flower! This flower consists of a hood-like deep purple spathe to 60cm long, with a blackish-purple spadix

However, Dracunculus vulgaris is not just about being a bazaar looking flower as it also has an extremely handsome purple-spotted stem. The dragon lily only produces several leaves - 30 cm wide or more. These narrow lobes are sometimes splashed with silver.

How to grow the dragon lily

Plant dragon lily tubers 15cm (6in) deep in the autumn or spring. The will prefer a  humus-rich, well-drained soil that dries out in summer.

The dragon lily will grows best in full sun, but will actually tolerate partial shade so you can expect it to do well in in open glades, in sheltered woodland or at the base of a sunny wall

Protect with a dry winter mulch and consider the smell of the flowers when deciding its permanent position.

Dragon lily facts-ish

1. As one of nature's more unusual plants, it is pollinated by flies not bees. When ready for pollination, the plant produces a smell, described as like rotten meat, to attract the flies but, once pollination is complete, the smell stops.

2. Carrying the roots or leaves was believed to protects against vipers and serpents. It may have been carried on boats to repel sea serpents.

3. There are widespread erotic connotations resulting from its shape and the newest of its common names indicates that plant folklore and beliefs continue to develop.

4. It was one used to preserve cheese by wrapping the leaves round it.

5. If you wash your hands in a liquor made from the plant you can handle snakes with impunity - allegedly! 

6. The root is toxic and a skin irritant. It produces berries like the Arum maculatum but the taste discourages ingestion. 

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