The very first time that I came across Stapelia gigantic I was captivated by this amazing plant, which looks like a cartoon of itself, indeed it looks like the starfish in the film “Finding Nemo”
However attractive the flower may look, this plant also goes under the name of Carrion Flower as, to attract pollinating flies, the flower produces a scent reminiscent of a ripe rubbish tip on a hot summer afternoon, or rotting meat.
Native to South Africa Stapelia gigantea is a succulent with short upright stems that resemble a cactus. The upright growth is green but will show a reddish coloration in bright sunlight, this is the result of anthocyanin production. The anthocyanin is a pigment which protects plant tissues from from photoinhibition, or high-light stress.
The name Stapelia was introduced by Linnaeus who described it in 1737. The name honours Johannes van Stapel, a 17th century physician and botanist.
The plant has been used by native Zulus as a remedy for hysteria, however it is mostly grown now as a decorative plant.
Stapelia gigantea can be grown in the UK, and have an RHS hardiness rating of H1c, which means they require similar conditions to Coleus or Tomatoes. They can be placed outdoors in a sunny location during the summer, but need a frost free environment over winter.
They are grown from seed, and germinate at temperatures of 25 – 30C. They should be grown in a free draining mix of 50% John Innes No 2 and 50% Grit.
As with all succulents care should be taken with watering, in particular over winter.
They are not the easiest of plants to grow as they can suffer from diseases, so positive air movement, dry growing conditions, sun and a very free draining compost are vital. They also seem to be magnets for mealy bugs.