The Stapelia flower or Carrion flower aka starfish plant belongs to the family, Asclepiadaceae, the same family as the milkweed plant.
These interesting, exotic succulent plants are a member of the genus Stapelia, which grows naturally in South Africa, in the tropical regions.
There are about ninety members of this succulent plant group. The most striking feature of this plant is the large, star-shaped flowers.
These flowers are very unusual looking with their strange, donut-like centers and bright, splashy markings.
Stapelia Varieties – Four Popular Choices:
#1 – Stapelia variegata usually grows to be about six inches high. It produces very pretty yellow flowers with interesting purplish-brown patterns. The blossoms are usually two or three inches across.
#2 – Stapelia hirsuta is another popular member of this group. Its slightly furry stems are longer and a bit slimmer than those of S. variegata, reaching a height of about eight inches.
The deep purplish-brown flowers are also hirsute (hairy) and quite flashy. The petals have yellow stripes, and the fine hair that coats the blossoms is a rusty-red color.
These blooms are usually four or five inches across.
#3 – Stapelia grandiflora has very long, slim stems. They can grow to be about a foot long and are covered with fine, velvety fur.
The flowers are impressively large at six inches across. They are a very deep red. In fact, they sometimes appear to be black. The edges of the blossoms are trimmed in white.
#4 – Stapelia gigantea has truly gigantic flowers. In fact, they are some of the largest flowers to be found among all flowering plants.
Even though the thick, velvety stems of the plant only grow to be about six or eight inches long, the flowers can be as large as sixteen inches across.
The blossoms are a very pale shade of yellow with very thin, red stripes.
Stapelia Flower – What’s That Smell?
Even with all these good looks, the most unusual feature of this plant is its peculiar scent.
Starfish cactus are sometimes referred to as Carrion Flowers because they exude the odor of rotting meat. [source]
Strange as this may seem, as with all things in nature, there is a good reason for this feature.
The smell of rotting meat attracts flies, which lay their eggs on the flower and incidentally spread pollen from one flower to another.
Another ‘smelly” plant is the corpse flower and Huernias.
How Strong Do These Stapelia Flowers Smell?
Perception of this strange smell varies from person-to-person. Some people say the smell is overwhelming like rotting flesh.
Others say you can barely smell it unless you put your nose very close to a flower. Naturally, the setting makes a big difference.
If you are keeping your Carrion plant in a small, warm sun porch or greenhouse, you will smell them more strongly than in a large, open room or outdoors.
The Starfish Flower Cactus Looks Make Up For The Smell!
Regardless of their odd odor, Stapeliads are good-looking plants. The plants only bloom from mid-summer until early autumn.
When they are not in bloom, the knobby, furrowed, succulent stems make an attractive and interesting addition to your plant collection.
When they do bloom, these flowering “cactus” are always showy and are impressively large in comparison to the size of the plant.
The blossoms appear low on the plant, leaving the interesting, fleshy stems towering above the blooms.
How Do You Take Care Of A Starfish Plant?
As succulents, these plants are very easy care for.
They grow quite a bit and need some tending during the spring and summer months, but they are quite carefree through the winter and into the spring.
During the warm summer months, your plants can live outdoors in full sun.
In winter, keep them as houseplants in a bright room that stays above 50° degrees Fahrenheit.
The Basics Of Stapelia Gigantea Care Requirements:
Light: Indoors or outdoors, starfish plants like lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Protect them against direct sun as it can be damaging.
NOTE: Years ago I grew the Starfish cactus outdoors in full sun successfully in south Florida.
Temperature: They prefer a warm temperature, and should be kept at above 50° degrees Fahrenheit in the wintertime.
Feeding: These plants do not need fertilizer.
Watering: Wait for the soil to dry completely between waterings. Water sparingly at all times and very little during the winter. Wait for the stems to shrivel a bit in wintertime before watering lightly.
Soil: As with most succulents, Stapelia plants like light, airy, well-drained soil. Because you will not provide fertilizer, your cactus soil potting mix should contain quite a bit of natural, organic matter. It should not be too acidic.
Repotting: Repot, transplant and/or propagate your Stapelia in the springtime, just before the growing season. Select a low, wide pot that allows the plant to spread.
Be sure to put a layer of pebbles, pot-shards or Styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom of the pot to provide good drainage.
Grooming: There is no regular pruning for this succulent plant. Just remove any dead or unsightly stems. Remove the flowers when they stop blooming.
Starfish Flower On Succulent (Stapelia gigantea)
How To Propagate Star Cactus Flowers?
You can start these succulents easily from cuttings. Unlike many succulents, they are also quite easy to grow from seed.
Cuttings should be taken in the springtime. Use a sharp knife to cut off a healthy stem.
Allow it to air overnight and then place it (cut end down) in a pot of cactus mix or your own soil mixture. Care for it as you would an adult plant.
Seeds are large and flat and easy to work with. Just sow them on the surface of a shallow tray (or individual seed pots) of cactus mix or your own soil mixture.
Cover them very lightly with soil. Mist the surface of the soil with water and keep the uncovered containers in a warm (60-65 degrees Fahrenheit) bright area.
Your seeds should sprout in a few days.
4 Pests & Problems
#1 – Overwatering can cause black stem rot, which cannot be cured.
If the base of your starfish succulent becomes black and mushy, you may be able to save a few good cuttings to start new plants, but the parent plant is done-for.
If just a few small areas of the plant exhibit rot, you may be able to save the parent plant by carefully cutting out the rotted areas.
#2 – Underwatering can cause stems to become shriveled and flabby. Luckily, this is an easy fix.
Just set the whole pot into a tray of water and allow it to soak until the soil is completely saturated.
Let excess water drain off and then keep an eye on your plant. Remember to water it again when the soil becomes completely dry, but before the stems begin to suffer.
#3 – If your plant has been suffering in any way, it may attract red spider mites.
When this happens, you will see yellow stippling on the stems and tiny dots (mites) scattered throughout.
Try wiping them off with a cotton ball dampened with water or with isopropyl alcohol.
You may need to repeat this treatment several times. If this doesn’t work, use a horticultural miticide product.
#4 – Scale insects and mealy bugs also like to plague succulent plants. You can use a knife blade to scrape mealy bugs off and/or pick them off with tweezers.
Treat with horticultural oil, such as Neem oil and/or insecticidal soap if the problem persists.
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Why Choose The Starfish Flower?
If you like unusual, interesting plants that are long-lived, easy to care for and intensely beautiful, the Stapelia is the plant group for you!
The popular varieties are easy to come by at standard nurseries, at specialty succulent shops, online and from gardening friends.
Even if you have not had a lot of luck with plants in the past, collecting Stapelia can provide you an easy, exciting, exotic and successful horticultural adventure. [source]
With dozens of varieties available, if you enjoy collecting you will be able to amass an impressive collection of very unusual and deceptively hardy plants.