Botanical Name — Stapelia gigantea
Common Name — Zulu giant, carrion plant, toad plant
Plant Family — Apocynaceae
Stapelia gigantea are a short, clumping species of succulent native to the arid regions of South Africa and Tanzania. They are short and spreading, reaching up to 8” in height but growing many branches. They are best known for their large, star-shaped flowers that can reach up to 10” across. Their odor has been compared to rotting flesh, and is irresistible to flies, the primary pollinators of this species.
- These plants prefer several hours of bright, indirect light each day. Avoid direct sun, since this can burn the foliage.
- These plants prefer warm temperatures, between 70 ºF and 95 ºF is ideal. They are cold intolerant, and should be kept indoors once night time temperatures consistently fall below 50 ºF.
- These plants are extremely drought tolerant, storing lots of water in their succulent stems. In the summertime water only occasionally; allow the soil to dry out completely in between waterings, and expose the plant to some drought. When you do water, be sure to saturate the soil fully.
- In the winter time water the plant minimally, only once stems have started to wrinkle and become flaccid.
- These plants require a gritty, sharply, draining soil mixture. A cactus or succulent soil is ideal. Soil can be amended with sand or fine pumice up to 50% to improve drainage and gritty texture.
- These plants are known for their large, star-shaped flowers. Flowers are typically red or yellow with maroon stripes. Flowers have wrinkled appearance and silky texture, and are covered in fine hairs.
- Flowers typically bloom in the fall. The foul odor these flowers produce has been compared to the smell of rotting meat, and attracts flies, which are the primary pollinators of this plant.
- These plants do not require fertilizer. To refresh soil or give the plants a boost, it is okay to feed them monthly with fertilizer specifically formulated for cacti and succulents.
- Fertilize these plants from spring through summer only. Avoid fertilizing during late fall and winter.
- These plants can easily be propagated from cuttings. Use a clean, sharp blade to sever a portion of the stem. Allow it to sit in a shaded spot for a few days, giving the would time to callous, then pot the cutting in a well-draining soil mix.
- These plants also propagate readily from seed. Sow seeds just below the surface. Provide a humid microenvironment to encourage germination, and keep soil mix evenly moist for the first few months to encourage seedling growth.
- Overwatering this plant can quickly lead to root or stem rot. This cannot be cured though cuttings can be taken to start new plants. If the rot has not spread very much, rotted parts may be able to be removed to save the parent plant.
- Spider mites, scale, and mealybugs can also plague this plant. Remove pests with a cotton ball or q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol or treat the plant with diluted neem oil once every few days until pests are eliminated.
Maintenance (pruning, legginess, repotting)
- These plants don’t require much in terms of maintenance. Repot them once every two to three years. Repotting in the springtime, just at the start of the growing season, is best.
- It is unclear whether or not this species is toxic, but many plants within the Milkweed (Apocynaceae) family are known to produce harmful toxins. It is best to keep this plant out of reach of pets and small children.