Stapelia gigantea

No one who sees the starfish flower, Stapelia gigantea, ever forgets it. Its 13- to 18-inch blossom is among the largest in the world--yellow, five-pointed, with petals marked with crimson lines. Its buds look like inflated balloons, opening slowly one petal at a time. Also unforgettable is its odor, giving rise to the common name "carrion flower,' which applies to several stapelias.

Few bees and hardly any butterflies are present as pollinators in the native region of these plants, but there are plenty of flies. Presumably it was nature's scheme to attract flies for pollination of flowers by the odor. The insect mistakes the flower for a piece of rotting animal carcass on which, habitually, it lays its eggs so that larvae hatching from them have something to feed on. In justice to the flowers, the carrion odor is not noticeable more than a few feet away, and it is of short duration.

Give stapelias sandy soil and good drainage. A suitable mix is four parts good potting soil to one part builder's sand. Keep new plants watered well while they are actively growing (spring to late summer), then allow to dry down one inch deep. In fall/winter keep them on the dry side, watering only when stems soften, signaling a need for water.

Although they grow in full sun in the wild, in captivity they seem to do best in a more subdued light. An eastern exposure with morning sun is good during their growth period; and when they are dormant a south window suits them. They summer well outdoors if kept out of hottest midday sun.

To propagate stapelia, merely twist off stems at joints and set them into a rooting medium. A good rooting mix is equal parts moist peat and perlite, with a half part of sand added to improve anchorage. Stand the cutting upright in the mix but don't cover it so deeply as to block air circulation. Keep the medium on the dry side and at 70 degrees or more. Anytime during the growing season is a good time to propagate.

When roots are a half-inch long, put cutting into a 3-inch pot containing the sand and soil mix. Keep it in the shade and fairly dry until established-- about two weeks. Expect blooms in about two years.

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