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How to Grow and Care for a Starfish Plant (Orbea variegata)


Orbea variegata is a species of flowering plant in the Dogbane family Apocynaceae. It is native to the coastal belt of the Western Cape, South Africa, growing actively during the winter rainfall season. In its natural habitat, Starfish Plants are sheltered from the hot rays of the sun by the shade of thickets and shrubs, beneath which they make matted clumps.

Starfish Plant is popular in cultivation and is often sold under its former name Stapelia variegata. It is long prized for its large spotted blossoms with its central ring surrounded by 5 wide, pointed lobes. It has many common names, including Starfish Plant, Starfish Cactus, Star Flower, Carrion Cactus, Carrion Flower, Toad Cactus and Toad Plant.

This plants are known as Carrion Plants as their flowers have an odor of rotting meat. They are pollinated by flies attracted to the smell.

In the United Kingdom Orbea variegata has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. It is regarded as an alien invader in the southern parts of Australia.

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Growing Condition and General Care

Starfish Plant is very easy to grow and it is the ideal plant for beginners.

Water sparingly, allowing the soil dry out between waterings and feed the plants during the active growing seasons. Keep almost dry in the winter but water sparingly occasionally to prevent wrinkling.  As this plant comes from a winter rainfall area, it should be given a rest period with reduced watering during the summer months.

Soil should be well drained and rich in organic matter. It prefer a well-drained, sandy medium consisting of equal parts of washed river sand, potting soil and topsoil.

Try to emulate its natural habitat, placing it so that it is protected from the sun during the hottest part of the day. This plant prefer early morning or late afternoon sun. When grown as an ornamental plant in temperate zones it requires protection, as it does not tolerate freezing temperatures.

Keeping Starfish Plants and their roots free of pests such as mealy bugs is the real key to success as fungal attack often occurs as a result of damage to stems by insects.


Propagate by seed in early spring or by cuttings of stem sections after flowering.


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