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Helen Chesnut: Stinky plant is a dragon flower

Dear Helen: There is a crazy-looking flower growing in my back lane. It’s very exotic looking with huge, luscious purple blossoms holding shiny purple centre spikes like a calla lily. Not so exotic is the smell, like rotting flesh.
Dragon flower has a habit of popping up here and there with its large, weird flowers and unsavoury odour.

Dear Helen: There is a crazy-looking flower growing in my back lane. It’s very exotic looking with huge, luscious purple blossoms holding shiny purple centre spikes like a calla lily. Not so exotic is the smell, like rotting flesh. Do you know what it is?


Dear J.F.: Your plant is Dracunculus vulgaris (dragon flower, dragon arum, voodoo lily). It grows from a tuber. Every year around this time, I’m sent photos like yours for identification. The form of the flower is typical of arum (calla) lilies, with a sail-like spathe wrapped around a long, slender spadix, on which are clustered the true, tiny flowers. The odour attracts carrion-eating insects like flies, for the purposes of pollination.


Dear Helen: Early in the month I had to pull my garlic because of garlic rust. How can I prevent infections in the future?


Dear L.C.: Garlic rust infections show on upper leaf surfaces as small, ragged specks that turn rusty orange as spores mature. Early infections weaken the plants and reduce bulb size. Infections that show up after June affect the yield minimally.

Cool, wet spring weather favours the rust at temperatures between 10 C and 24 C. Leaves that stay wet for four hours or more are vulnerable. The rust spores can spread over long distances on the wind.

Destroy infected foliage. Do not compost it. Because the infections do not appear to spread on the bulbs, they should be fine.

Try to keep the foliage as dry as possible in the spring. If watering becomes necessary, apply the water at ground level rather that with overhead sprinklers. For the strongest, most disease-resistant plants possible, plant in fertile soil. Provide adequate moisture, but avoid over-watering and over-fertilizing with nitrogen. Both promote an abundance of soft green growth with reduced resistance to pests and diseases.

Rust spores can over-winter on affected onion-family vegetables. Remove any such infected plant material before winter. Leave as many years as possible before growing onion family plants in the same area. This is only a partial solution, however, because the spores spread so easily on the wind.


Dear Helen: In the fall, we acquired a tiny, very unhappy-looking rhubarb root for 50 cents. This spring, it grew vigorously, taking up a good portion of its plot. The stalks are large. Is it true that we should not harvest any in this, the plant’s first year in the garden?



Dear M.V.: It is best not to harvest any stems in a plant’s first year. A few can be pulled in the second year, and normal harvesting begins in the plant’s third year. Even then, it is recommended to pull no more than one-third of the stalks at a time.

Rhubarb is basically a spring crop, with harvesting halted in early summer. Then the plant is given a deep watering and a mulching with compost and/or composted manure to help replenish the roots.

Some gardeners manage to harvest sparingly a few times in early summer without damage to established plants that are vigorous and healthy. You may wish to risk pulling two or three stalks from your new but large and vigorous plant. Just water and mulch generously afterward.



View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet this evening at 7:30 in Shoreline Community School, 2750 Shoreline Dr. Lindsay Kearns will give a presentation on Preserving the Harvest in traditional and trendy ways. Visitors are welcome. More information at 250-220-5212.

Cactus meeting. The Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society will meet this evening at 7:30 in First Memorial (Funeral Services), 4725 Falaise Dr. in Royal Oak. The meeting rooms are around the back and can be reached by a path to the right of the parking lot or a ramp at the left side of the building.

Government House plant sales. The Friends of Government House Garden Society hold a sale of perennial plants every Tuesday and Thursday morning, 9 a.m. to noon, in the plant nursery next to the tea room in the Cary Mews at Government House. All proceeds go to the development of the gardens, which are open daily to the public at no admission cost.

Lily show. The Victoria Lily Society will host a flower show, plant sale and tea on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Salvation Army Citadel, 4030 Douglas St. (off Mackenzie). On display will be judged exhibits. The show is wheelchair accessible.

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