Black Lilly sketch

Ink and watercolor in large Moleskine watercolor notebook sketched on site
(Click image to enlarge, select “All Sizes”)

These are some weird plants. We spotted them yesterday on a walk and I couldn’t stop and sketch so I took some photos (see end of post). They look like calla lillies except the part that’s normally white and yellow is nearly black and velvety with bright green stalks. Last night I worked on some thumbnail sketches, trying to make sense of the jumble of leaves and flowers so that I could make a painting of the plant.

Black-Lilly-thumbnail

Preliminary pencil thumbnail/value study from last night

But I realized I needed more information in order to understand them well enough to paint them. So today, instead of going to the Sketchcrawl in Berkeley, I drove back up to the North Berkeley hills. I found the house and it looked like nobody was home so I set up my little stool in the driveway and started drawing. I was painting when a woman approached me and said, “May I ask what you’re doing?”

“Painting a picture,” I said, holding up the picture to show her. “Is this your house?”

“No, I live next door and I’m trying to get my house out of foreclosure. I get nervous when I see someone studying my house.” (I was sitting facing her house.) She left me alone after telling me the homeowners were away for the weekend but that she shouldn’t be telling me that.

I love the way working outdoors incorporates all the senses. There’s a park nearby and I could hear kids playing soccer and neighbors discussing plumbing and babies, and the whole time I sat there I kept smelling something like fermenting grapes. With the rich purple of the plant, I imagined it was the scent of the flowers, but probably it was coming from a hidden compost bin.

Black Lilly photo

Here’s a photo of the plant. The pink color is a figment of my camera’s imagination but I like it. The flowers actually range from black cherry to black like the one in the foreground with wonderful variations in spring green foliage. I can’t wait to get started on the painting!

UPDATE: I finally found out what this plant is: Dracunculus vulgaris or dragon arum:

“The purplish-red spathe and foul-smelling stench of dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) attracts flies to the base of its erect, flower-bearing spadix. Although it is colorful, this is probably NOT the flower to give to that special someone in a bouquet.”

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Flower Art, Plants, Sketchbook Pages, Watercolor
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Join the conversation! 28 Comments

  1. WHAT A FLOWER!!!! LOOK S LIKE SOMETHING THAT ATE CLEVELAND!! LOL SUPER SUPER JOB, JANA! And congrats to you for risking the painting too!! I’ve been sketching out doors this week while the weather’s been warm — it is a delicious feeling to be among all the sensory experiences and the meditativeness of sketching!!

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    • I just got seeds for this plant. I love it and its purple one of my most favorite colors. I cant wait to plant the seeds and share them. Can they be kept indoor or are they a outside plant sue

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  2. PS — JUST WANTED TO BE CLEAR — THE PHOTO OF THE FLOWER — THE FLOWER ITSELF, LOOKS LIKE IT WOULD EAT CLEVELAND — NOT YOUR PAINTING OF IT — WHICH I THINK IS AWESOME!! LOL JUST HAD TO BE SURE I DIDN’T MISSPEAK!! LOL

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  3. It looks like some kind of strange horned beast. And its texture in the photo looks sort of fleshy … What a creepy flower! Lovely sketch, though!

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  4. Hi,
    I just found your blog and wanted to say hi and I love your work. I am a retired garden designer, and thought maybe you would like to know what this plant is? It’s common name is Devil’s tounge or Snake Palm, depending on where you are in the world. This is the smaller decorative variety…perennial. They do tend to stink when in bloom…smells a lot like something rotten or a compost pile…but they sure a neat looking.
    Anyway…just thought you might like to know. I love your work on it. Good luck with the finished work.

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  5. Fascinating flower and wonderful painting of it.

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  6. Looks like a dragon that hatched into a flower instead. I wonder what it is!?

    I love your sketch of it, in any case, and the story…

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  7. Terrific photos and painting of the horror I call “dead horse lily” as its smell of rotting meat attracts the flies which polinate it. (Yes, I had one in a garden, years ago.Fascinating, botanically, but thoroughly unpleasant in the garden!)
    You have done it justice, Jana.

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  8. What a gorgeous black purple!

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  9. Just dropping by to say Hi and see what you’ve been up to. I love these lillies and your interpretation of them. I’ve never seen anything quite that colour before – they are gorgeous.

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  10. What a gorgeous flower and thanks to the comment above i now know what it is. I would have gone back also to paint it. your sketch is wonderful.

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  11. What a creepy wonderful flower… and your initial painting really cool. can’t wait to see the finished product. love the reworked camelia and your glass bowl just shines!

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  12. […] I drew the stinky flowers I walked up the hill to the Berkeley Rose Garden. None of the rose are blooming but the surrounding […]

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  13. […] to finish and post it today, and did, even though the photo isn’t great. I worked from a watercolor I did on site, and a bunch of photos I took of this odd stinky plant on a walk a few weeks ago. I did some […]

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  14. hello…

    i came across this by chance. was looking for a way to identify some plants i’ve got, and i searched for “stinky plants”.
    I don’t like to contradict people, but i am not sure the plants/flowers in your picture are the devil’s tongue.
    From my searches after I saw your picture, devil’s tongue is a kind of amorphophallus (not sure I spelled that right), while what you have in the picture is exactly what I have in the pot by the window, some kind of lily/calla.
    Oh well, your watercolor is wonderful and it really doesn’t matter the name of the plant… or does it?
    I am just trying to find the name of MY plant.
    All the best,
    Calin 🙂

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  15. We’ve been looking and it might be the calla lily called Black Star…

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20040055064.html

    We have seeds, but these grew in a neighbor’s garden and he passed away…his neighbor gave us some seeds. Will report back if the information is different.

    They did not have any smell that we were able to notice when we saw them in bloom.

    Best wishes on your hunt!

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  16. When I was a kid (over forty years ago) , we had these growing in my parent’s garden (all dead and gone now, what a shame!) in a suburb called Hornsby, in Sydney Australia. The common name for these in those days was “Dead Dog Lilly.”

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  17. I know it is a late response, but I thought I would add this anyway. It is definitly not amorphophallus konjac (devils tonge) – they are much bigger and the stem is exceptionally tall (4ft and over). I have been doing my research trying to name this plance since I just bought one. All I had to go off was ‘black lily’. I believe the correct name for this plant is Arum palaestinum – black calla lily. Hope this helps to any hopefuls wanting to know the identity! And yes, the smell would have been eminating from the plant. It is one of the species which uses bugs and flies to polinate so it emits a smell of something rotting. If it was the amorphophallus konjac you where sitting so close to I don’t know if you would have handled it – one site details a diary of having the flower inside since it was too cold outside. It starts off being bearable and then within a couple hours they describe the stench as if someone had dug up a dead horse in their backyard. Wish me luck as I have just bought one of these also! LOL! (I hate my neighbours…)

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  18. I forgot to add – nice painting by the way!

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  19. My Black Lily’s have just finished flowering, yea they are beautiful and thankfully, they don’t stink or small in any way.
    otherwise my wife would have made me dig them up and move them.

    I’ve had these rhizomes for over 30 years.

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  20. Sorry, but I forgot to add that their name is Arum palaestinum.

    I have been told to be careful of the seeds as they are poisonous.

    My mother inlaws have only just finished flowering, I was hoping to post a photo of hers, as mine have finished.

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  21. I have a plant like this and it does not stink nor draw bugs. It does not have seeds. It has bulbs that do multiply. The leaves are nearly as large as the seat of a lawn chair. Mine come out in Feb or March and are here for a short time and gone quickly. A beautiful plant.

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  22. I have one of these strange beauties growning in my yard. The smell was driving me crazy!!!! Sure glad I didn’t clip it and take it in the house LOL

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  23. Funny how darker, more ominous looking flowers tend to be the ones that smell worse. Just when you want to learn to stop judging a book by its cover, its the ones that look ‘worse’ that smell worse after all, eh?
    It’s similar with animals: crows are the sign of foreboding ill news because they’re black and look evil – but conveniently enough, they pick on the flesh of the dead as well! Which just makes people hate them more. Sigh!

    When I was younger, an ominous-looking black lily popped up miraculously in our garden where the white lilies used to be. What happened to the white lilies?? Mum thought it was a sign of “Evil dominating Good”(partly because of the stench which she said smelled like a rotting corpse) and she demanded that dad hack the roots off! Haha, sigh

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  24. you do not know how much this made my day. i have been searching for years to find out what the flowers are that my fiance’s grandpa planted in now our yard 40 years ago. Arum palaestinum. Thank you to the original poster for wanting to paint such an incredibly beautiful stink! 🙂 nice job!

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  25. […] with a large plastic container so I could have water lilies beside my Gunera Manicata and my Black Lily. I was obsessed then with the idea of a black flower, how beautiful and unique! Little that I knew […]

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