Fleshy stems with four ribs and star flowers with elongated tips. It’s not a rule, but in most cases, the flower tips are long and curved.
5 large petals that can dress the most delicate shades of yellow or white or get noticed in the crowd with a decidedly more flashy outfit. In fact, S. gigantea can have purple flowers. We have previously described a perfumed species, but now we cannot say the same for this. Let’s go back to using the differently perfumed expression.
Common names: carrion flower, African starfish, aasblom in African
Synonyms: Stapelia marlothii, Stapelia Nobilis, Stapelia young
Etymology: Stapelia was introduced by Linnaeus who described it in 1737. The name honors Johannes van Stapel, a 17th-century physician, and botanist.
Distribution: Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Unlike the S. Grandiflora which is present in Great Karoo, Free State, Port Elizabeth, and especially in the Eastern Cape.
Description: perennial succulent with stems up to 25cm long and 1 to 4cm in diameter, branched erect in color from green to red depending on the degree of exposure to the sun, more rarely purplish. Stapelia gigantea is a very variable species, it has the largest flowers of the genus which can reach from 10 to 40cm in diameter.
On the stems with a quadrangular section and with tubercles flattened and arranged vertically, in each tubercle, there is a micro-leaf that does not exceed a few mm.
The flowers are large in the shape of a star and sprout on small peduncles from the base of the plant. A plant produces multiple flowers that open in succession. They are cream-yellow in color with subtle purple veins. Although the flowers vary in size from plant to plant, the shape is more or less the same. They have a slight fluff on the outside. If pollinated they produce fruits that enclose numerous seeds with hair that favors transport and dispersion with the wind.
Cultivation: It is a fairly resistant plant and rather easy to cultivate because it adapts to the most disparate conditions. The most favorable soils for its development are porous and draining with a neutral or slightly acidic pH. In summer, protect it from direct sunlight, especially if the color tends to brown. The ideal exposure would be half shade or high shade. Water from spring to late summer with abundant but sparse watering. In winter hospitalize
Diseases: cottony cochineal often affects the root system. Also, pay attention to water stagnation or frequent watering to avoid rot in the collar.
Curiosity: The putrid smell of the flowers of many Stapelia species attracts flies and other insects thus promoting pollination. The flies are deceived by the smell of rotten meat so as to lay their eggs around the fleshy crown, convinced that it will be a source of food for their larvae. Among other curiosities of this species, some texts report that the stems were used by the Zulu as a remedy for hysteria.
Tips for growing Stapelia
Succulent plants that love the sun: light is an essential element to admire the particular flowering of the Stapelia, elegant desert stars.
Some species are simpler to grow, while others (those with hairy stems and more delicate and unusual flowers) require targeted care. It is also possible to give general advice to better treat these succulents.
Cultivation in pots
Pot cultivation is the best choice for species of the genus Stapelia. During the cold season, plants must be moved to sheltered places, while in spring and summer they can easily decorate terraces or corners of the garden well exposed to sunlight. By growing them in pots it is possible to complete these movements with greater ease, ensuring the plants the best conditions for growing robust, pushing them towards a beautiful bloom.
They must be repotted every year in spring (when the stems begin to be massed at the edge of the pot), always using a very light substrate. Soil for cacti and coarse sand layers (to facilitate drainage) is what it takes. The pot, small in size at the beginning, must be changed as the plant grows, in order to allow for easy horizontal growth. Recall that the initial erect posture changes with growth into creeping and it is for this reason that the Stapelia need a lot of space to develop in width. We recommend using terracotta pots.
stapelia pot cultivation
For the cultivation of Stapelie we recommend using terracotta pots (JMillott CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Cultivation in open ground
Stapelia are truly incredible and fascinating plants. It is possible to grow them in the garden, but between a cultivation in the ground and that in a pot, the latter is always preferable. This is because the cold winter temperatures and bad weather could damage the most delicate specimens.
A nice terracotta pot (to be moved to sheltered places during the winter), placed in a corner of a flowerbed or in strategic points of a rocky garden, will only be added value for your green corner.
Cultivation on the terrace (or windowsill)
Walking through the alleys of the historic center of your city it will not be difficult to notice the wonderful Stapelia overlooking the window. These plants are often used to embellish not only large terraces or balconies, but also as protruding plants for windows. They are not large, but thanks to their flower they will stand out.
We have repeatedly stressed the importance of moving the pot to sheltered places during the winter and this time we literally highlight the same concept. The Stapelia do not like temperatures below 10 ° C. Some species are more resistant than others and can even tolerate temperatures of around 5 ° C, but for a limited period of time. Recall that they are plants native to warm African areas.
Full sun or shade? If you are trying to solve the hamletic and botanical doubt with the pot in your hand, follow the illuminated road to find the answer. All Stapelia species need full sun exposure. They can also tolerate shady positions, but there will be many problems for flowering.
Correct exposure to light is essential for the flowering of the Stapelia – Canglesea (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Before we have already given some useful information about the perfect soil to be used for the cultivation of Stapelia. Good soil for cacti and coarse sand in equal parts is what you need. Arranging even shards on the bottom of the pot is useful to facilitate the drainage of water, essential for species of this genus.
Stapelia must be watered frequently during the vegetative phase. For the entire spring season and until the end of summer it is necessary to proceed with irrigation (abundant) at least once a week, without ever allowing the soil to dry up completely.
During the autumn and winter, proceed only when the soil begins to dry, but without ever exceeding the quantities. It is only necessary to keep the soil slightly damp.
The multiplication of the Stapelia can occur by seed or by cutting. Let’s see how to proceed:
Multiplication by cuttings: cuttings must be taken in the spring, that is, during the vegetative phase of the plant. It is possible to take both stems complete with roots, which is to cut secondary stems at the branching point with the main stem. After one or two weeks (time necessary to allow the wounds to heal) it is possible to plant the cuttings in a compound like the one described above, at about 2-3cm deep. Place the pot in a sheltered place with a constant temperature of about 16 ° C and move the cutting to the final container only after the roots have developed.
Multiplication by seeds: it is more difficult to complete this operation. Proceed to sow during the spring, blocking the seeds in a layer of sand and using a good soil for side Cactaceae. The container must be placed in a place with partial shade exposure and with a temperature between 20 and 25 ° It is essential to keep the soil always moist.
The new plants can only be transferred when they have reached 5cm in height. Flowering can also take place several years apart.
Stapelia fertilization must take place regularly during the plant’s growth period (spring-summer), combining liquid fertilizer with irrigation water. Take action every 3 weeks and use a balanced fertilizer. In all other periods, the fertilizations must be suspended.
No pruning for any species of Stapelia. Just remove the damaged and dry parts, using clean and disinfected tools.
Pests, diseases and other adversities
Pythium and Phytophthora mushrooms are the main threats to these plants. In fact, the Stapelias suffer from root rot, caused by incorrect irrigation and poorly draining soils. Unfortunately, in the event of an attack by these fungi, it is really difficult to return the plant to its normal state. It is not easy to understand when the root rot is expanding and action is almost always delayed. Prevention is better than cure, it is appropriate to say it. Regular watering and draining substrate are factors that should never be underestimated for the care of these succulents.
Another threat is the mealybug, to be eliminated by using systemic pesticides.
The name Stapelia was introduced by Linnaeus in 1737, in honor of the Dutch botanist Johannes Bodaeus van Stapel. In addition to the scientific name used to identify the genus, we often hear about African flower stars or carrion flowers. Common names used to identify almost all species, whose flowers give off a strong smell of rotting meat. A smell that attracts necrophage insects, which will be trapped by the flower. In an attempt to free themselves, they will be covered with pollen that will be deposited on another flower: this is how pollination takes place (the most botanical experts will forgive us for this summary description).
The genus Stapelia is not registered as toxic and potentially dangerous.
Language of flowers
All succulent plants, thanks to their great resistance, symbolize perseverance. This is also the meaning of the Stapelia, which represent the perfect gift for a person you love very much, to underline the importance of a feeling destined to last over time. The starflowers of different colors will act as exclamation marks for the phrase “I love you”!
Be careful to give them to people who are passionate about perfumes: remember that, as mentioned before, they are plants with different scents.