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STAPELIA gigantea

Image of Stapelia gigantea

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Asclepiadaceae

Botanical Name

STAPELIA gigantea

Plant Common Name

Zulu Flower

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

This well known genus of enormous carrion flowers contains 45 species of tender, dwarf succulent plants. They are primarily native to South Africa from the cape region deep into the arid deserts of the eastern regions. It prefer very fast draining sandy soils or raised rocky locations, which rarely retain much moisture but boulders offer protection from direct afternoon exposure.

All carrion flowers share the look and smell of a kill to draw flies, their primary pollinator. The immense starfish shaped flowers of this genus emit such potent odors they will draw flies in a domestic garden. Flowers in this genus can have diameters from that of a softball to as wide as home base. They feature the typical blood and guts colors as well as hairy accents. They all share the five point star shape and a flattish flower where flies are fooled into laying their eggs, and thereby pollinate the bloom. These fly eggs hatch out into tiny whitish microscopic larvae that quickly die of starvation. The longer the flower has been open the more white residue accumulates.

This genus of carrion flowers feature a clump of four sided, bright green angled stems bearing slight tubercles along the edges. The plants creep along, spreading into large patches where conditions are ideal. These plants tend to break into segments when they are old and heavy, with pieces falling away to root where they land.

Just a few species are grown and available from specialty succulent dealers. The most distinctive and widely grown is Stapelia grandiflora, the largest of the red flowered species. Larger yet, though less well known is Stapelia gigantea which produces loads of enormous puss yellow blossoms that lie flat and open on the ground to lure flies. The most unique flower shape is that of Stapelia leendertziae with its very deep blood red somewhat bell shaped flowers resembling a large mouth inflated balloon.

These are truly unique plants that do well in very shallow, wide container such as a bonsai pot or cactus pan. Carrion flowers can be very difficult to grow even in dry climates similar to that of their homeland. They are quite prone to rotting off at the soil line if not perfectly drained. In the wild they survive in sand dune soils illustrating how much more important porosity is than fertility. Even under the best conditions they may inexplicably die out or rot away. Unlike other succulent cuttings that are planted in sand to encourage rooting, these plants prefer to lie on top of the ground, rooting where they fall without planting. Planting cuttings makes them far more prone to rot. Adult plants may suffer from mealy bugs in the roots as well. Grow these succulents in sun or bright shade.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 10

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    13 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    12, 13, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    8"-12" / 20.3cm - 30.5cm

  • Width

    6"-36" / 15.2cm - 91.4cm

  • Bloom Time

    Summer

  • Native To

    Southern Africa

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Yellow, Red

  • Fruit Color

    Tan

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    Yes

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Houseplant, Rock Garden / Wall

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No