Plant’s rare bloom has scent of success for restaurant

A “lucky bamboo” sounds like a perfect plant for a Chinese restaurant. When Lilly Zeng was told she had a lucky, even magical plant, at Lilly’s Garden in north Everett, she wasn’t so sure.

Business had been good at her two-year-old, redecorated business, but it could always be better.

She recently noticed a lovely fragrance in the main dining room. Customers said a magical plant in the front window was blooming, and that it only flowered every 25 or more years.

I immediately thought of the infamous stinky plant at the University of Washington. The “corpse flower” bloomed in 2005 in the greenhouse with a nasty stench, making worldwide news.

Marylou Hart, a master gardener, identified the plant at Lilly’s Garden as a Dracaena fragrans, sometimes called a corn plant or lucky bamboo. After a recent lunch rush, Zeng talked about how she came to America from China in 1996 with her husband, Jason Lee, and three small children. Lee is a chef and her brother, Denny Zou, also works at the restaurant.

About 11 years ago, a friend moved to Tacoma and gave Zeng the plant. It just sat around her south Everett home and never bloomed.

“I brought it here three months ago,” Zeng said. “It goes boom.”

It must like the ambience, the aroma of kung pao chicken or the view of bustling Broadway.

Its white blossom, shaped like an ear of shucked corn, smells wonderful. Dracaenas bloom when mature, and if treated just right, Hart said.

Hart, 50, is a master gardener with the Washington State University Extension office in south Everett. She worked as an evidence officer for the Snohomish County sheriff’s office and has been a master gardener since 1994. She is co-chairwoman of the gardening program’s annual plant sale May 3.

She knows her garden stuff.

Hart stays busy with the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens in Everett, is chairman of the Gardens of Merit Tour on June 28 and is in charge of the annual Great Garden Garage Sale in September at the arboretum.

In her spare time, she cooks and works in her yard.

She was quick to tell her friends about Zeng’s Dracaena fragrans.

“When I went to my arboretum meeting, my group, all gardeners, didn’t know that Dracaena flowers,” Hart said. “Several have been gardening 40 years or more.”

Perhaps the plant is lucky.

It’s said to gobble up carbon monoxide.

Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.

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