692 Stapelia spp.Common Names: carrion flower, starfish flower, carrion plant Family: Asclepiadaceae (milkweed Family)
The carrion flowers are cactuslike succulents with four-angled, coarsely toothed, spineless stems. The fleshy stems branch near the base and form spreading clumps up to 2 ft (0.6 m) tall. The stems are not much to look at, but the flowers are remarkable. They are large 3-10 in (7.6-25.4 cm) across, usually flattened and shaped like five pointed stars with a conspicuous round disk in the center. The fleshy petals are often fringed with tiny hairs. Flowers are colored with reds, yellows, browns and purples, and many are spotted, barred or mottled. The flowers of many species smell like carrion, but most are not so strong smelling as to be offensive.
There are almost 100 species of Stapelia, including garden hybrids and selections whose exact origins have been forgotten. Hortus Third lists more than 50 species that are commonly cultivated. Some species have been placed in different genera, including the genus Orbea, which includes the starfish or toad cactus (O. variegata), probably the best known of all the carrion flowers.
The carrion flowers, Stapelia spp., are native to arid, usually rocky, deserts in tropical and southern Africa, where they often grow in the partial shade of larger plants or rocks. Many of the species are confined to the Cape region of South Africa.
CultureCarrion flowers are usually grown in containers and given a distinct cool, dry rest period in winter. Smart gardeners start new cuttings each year to guard against losing the lineage from rotting. Light: Carrion flowers require bright light, but most should not have full sun in the summer. Many species do well in partial shade. Moisture: Carrion flowers do well with light to moderate watering during the growing season, but must be kept dry during the winter. The soil must be extremely well drained as the stems are prone to rotting if they stay moist. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Carrion flowers can be maintained outdoors in USDA zones 10 and 11. Some may be hardy to zone 9. They are very tolerant of extreme heat, but must be protected from frost. Propagation: Propagate carrion flowers from cuttings taken in spring or summer. Allow pieces of stem to dry for a week or so, then plant in almost dry soil.
Carrion flowers make interesting novelty plants in the subtropical succulent or rock garden, or on a sunny window sill in cooler climates.
The disagreeable smell of carrion flowers attracts flies which transfer pollen between flowers.
Steve Christman 5/10/00; updated 1/20/04