Asclepiad Series: Stinky & Spectacular Flowers

asclepiad, carrion flower, growing stapelia, huernia, lifesaver cactus, orbea, stapelia, stapelianthus, starfish cactus -

Asclepiad Series: Stinky & Spectacular Flowers

The Asclepiad family, including the genus Stapelia, have evolved some extraordinary adaptations to their arid, harsh environments. 

Because these locales lack the resources to support bees, wasps, butterflies, and other typical pollinators, some members of this family have had to change their campaign to attract other pollinators: flies!

Instead of a heavenly, floral scent, these flowers emit a carrion-like odor. Like a wine connoisseur, the different smells and degrees of odor can be identified by a trained nose...they range from "hot garbage" to "five day old corpse" to "dumptruck full of mothballs."


In addition to their scents, they have special physical characteristics that resemble dead animals. Most flowers are "hairy", like the hide of a dead beast, and their petals look and feel like animal skin. Even the spectacular reds, oranges, and purples are designed to mimic rotting meat. Disgustingly brilliant!


Huernia hybrid Elvis

This hybrid, Huernia 'Elvis', earned its namesake from the suede-looking flowers.

Most stapelia do best with a little protection from full, afternoon summer sun, especially if you live somewhere with high humidity like Florida. Since most stapelia crawl along the ground in their growth habit, it is helpful to put a thin layer of gravel on top of the soil to allow adequate draining. Even though they come from harsh, dry regions, these plants look better with consistent watering. Allow them to dry out between waterings, but don't let them shrivel like raisins! I use a soluble bloom booster fertilizer in the water several times in the spring and late summer, or once temperatures of 80 or more are reached every day. 

My favorite asclepiad (the sub-family to which these plants belong) is Edithcolea grandis, aka Persian Carpet Flower.  This beauty makes its home in West Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and the fabled island of Socotra. The flowers are huge, complex works of art, seen in the feature image of this article.

Coming soon in the Asclepiad series: Pachypodium! (Madagascar Palms)

 


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