The genus Stapelia comprises a challenging and rewarding group of some 50 species of clump-forming stem succulents from southern Africa. The leafless four-angled stems have toothed edges and may be pubescent. Stems grow erect, branching mainly from the base, and may develop a reddish color in strong sunlight.
Stapelia have unusual, often large five-lobed flowers, which may be red, purple or yellow, often with interesting banded patterns. The surface can be brightly polished or matted with hairs, and most species produce a putrid odour of rotting carrion to attract blow flies as pollinators. This explains their popular name of “Carrion Flowers”. Stapelia erectiflora and Stapelia flavopurpurea have sweetly scented flowers.
The genus Stapelia was historically merged with Orbea. Leach (1975) re-separated Orbea into its own genus.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Several species are fairly easy to grow and Stapelia (Orbea) variegata is a well known cottage windowsill plant. Others, often those with slightly hairy stems and the more unusual flowers, are more challenging and require careful watering (with some fertilizer) during the growing season and complete withdrawal of water during the winter months.
A minimum winter temperature of 10°C (50°F) is acceptable, providing that plants are kept absolutely dry. A heated growing bench or incubator may help delicate plants to get through the colder months. However, many species live under shrubs in habitat and prefer light shade rather than full sun.
A gritty compost is essential, and clay pots are advisable for the more delicate species. Some growers prefer a mineral-only compost to minimize the chance of fungal attack on the roots. A layer of grit on the surface of the compost prevents moisture from accumulating around the base of the stems.
Keeping Stapelias 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. Watering with a good systemic insecticide such as those based on imidachloprid should help to keep plants healthy.
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