A couple of years ago, I gave my mother a cute little succulent. It kind of looked like a cactus, but didn't have any spines. Then one day when I was talking to her, she was all excited because it had this huge pod looking thing growing out from it. I told her it was getting ready to flower. Well, it kept getting bigger and bigger. There was numerous references made to that old horror flick, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It finally opened up. I think my mother wanted to disown me after that! Only kidding.
She could not believe the smell coming from this thing! I had a good laugh.
In case you are wondering, I am talking about the Stapelia gigantea. This type of succulent has numerous common names, including carrion flower, giant toad flower, Zulu giant, starfish flower and (in Australia) dead horse plant. Some of these names really fit it well. It's big, it resembles a starfish and it attracts flies like a dead horse, because that is what it pretty much smells like. The flies are the principle means of pollination. It has been reported that the flies are sometimes so deceived by the odor that they lay their eggs on the flower itself, convinced that it will be a food source for their hatching larvae.
The name Stapelia was introduced by Linnaeus who described it in 1737. The name honours Johannes van Stapel, a 17th century physician and botanist.
Here is what mine looks like in flower:
Stapelias are native to the deserts of South Africa. The flowers are large, fleshy, 5-pointed stars, like a starfish. They can be 10-16 inches across.
They need a well drained, cactus type soil. Give them full sun, but be careful, if they have been shaded for any long length of time, they can sunburn. Moderate amounts of water during the growing season will be beneficial. They need a cool, dry rest period in Winter. Fertilize once during the growing season with any good fertilizer. They are best managed in pots and can withstand extreme heat. They don't like frost, if you live anywhere outside a Zone 9-11, bring them in during the Winter. Being they like a cool, dry rest period during the Winter, you can pretty much put them in a window and forget about them until Spring. I put mine in a forgotten corner of my greenhouse and they love it!
Stapelia gigantea and any of the other Stapelias are propagated by stem cuttings. Take cutting in spring when the new growth begins. Let cuttings callus up for 2-3 weeks before planting. Use any cactus potting mix to root.
There are a number of other Stapelias. To give you a very small sample of what they can look like:
(Photos courtesy of S.P. Bester, National Herbarium)
The only pest that I have heard of that will bother Stapelias are Mealybugs. Luckily, I have not had a problem with them.
For a parting piece of information, they are considered an invasive plant in Hawaii and a weed in Australia.
If you can find any of these beauties, I encourage to give them a chance. Then you can always say, Oh....Look at my little stinker!