Friday, 22 May 2009

Indigenous Beauties : Stapelia gigantea

I love using contrasts in a garden, and Stapelia seems to have more than its fair share of contrasts all in one plant. The best description I can think of for this plant is that its Pretty Awful - but in a good way?

Stapelia gigantea
Carrion Flower

If you are used to looking at the fairly nondescript succulent stems for most of the year, the flower when it arrives, starting with a blood red bud, opens up into an incredibly beautiful pale yellow flower. The fleshy flower itself seems too big for the small stems, and although it looks amazing, it smells terrible - unless you're a fly of course.

Its common name is Carrion Flower because of its use of its awful rotting flesh smell to attract insects - and particularly flies. The flies spread pollen from one flower to the next as the pollen sacs get stuck to them.

The stems are four-sided and are spineless, and are able to withstand extremes - from dry to relatively moist conditions. It can be planted in semi-shade, but will flower well in full sun. It would often be found in rocky, sandy soil, and even in rock crevasses, where its root benefits from the coolness of the stone. It's large flowers put on their show from summer to autumn.

They generally need a cool dry winter period, and can be cultivated very easily. Stapelia is definitely an easy plant to grow and look after - and is well worth finding a spot for it. But preferably where a breeze will dilute its odour!
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