As Halloween approaches, it seemed only fitting to talk about a plant that is gross, but awesome at the same time. It smells like rotting flesh and attracts flies. Pretty disgusting, right? Yet, at the same time, pretty clever. Smell like rotting flesh, attract flies, and get pollinated. That is the plan the carrion plant or Stapelia gigantea has worked out for itself. This grotesque smelling plant is perfect for this month and it was blooming profusely when I visited Federick Meijer gardens a few weeks ago. The smell was like road kill and the flies were attracted.
This succulent (not a cactus) hailing from south Africa, is in the milkweed family and is named in honor of Johannus van Stapel, a 17th century physician and botanist. I would love a plant named for me, but one wonders what made someone name this plant for a specific person. Were they friends or enemies? Just a thought.
It flowers in the fall when the days shorten and the flowers can be 10-12″ wide and look like a starfish, another common name given to this plant. It has long hairs on the edges of the flower and it has been suggested that those hairs add to the illusion of the flower being a dead animal, along with the foul smell. It can grow as a ground cover and in Frederick Meijer gardens it has taken over quite a large area in the desert house.
After the colorful, aromatic description, if you decide to grow this as a houseplant, choose the window with the brightest light and give it well drained soil. If you can’t tolerate the smell of the flowers, cut them off. That is the best part of the plant, yet, it is still an attractive succulent plant even without the flowers. This plant stopped me in my tracks in the conservatory and it did smell but I had to get quite close to smell it. Obviously, in a smaller room in your home, it might be a bit stronger, but may be worth the aroma to have these magnificent flowers. What do you think?
The pictures below were taken of a stapelia at Matthaei Botanical Garden one year ago this month.