There are a lot of wonderful succulents out there, but few are as showy as an Adenium arabicum (a-DEE-nee-um a-RAB-ih-kum) in full bloom.
More commonly known as desert rose, this semi-evergreen perennial is native to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
It shares its common names with a few other members of the Apocynaceae family but stands out as an excellent specimen for Adenium bonsai practitioners.
All varieties of Desert Rose shrubs have a squat appearance, with a swollen, gnarled caudex and stubby branches.
They’re perfectly adapted for dry, rocky climates and will often grow where there is very little space.
The name Adenium is named after Aden, a country just south of Saudi Arabia, and this species sometimes is known simply as the Aden bush as a result.
Additionally, some circles consider Adenium arabicum to be a subspecies of Adenium Obesum, although this has not been proven.
Adenium Arabicum Care
Size & Growth
While often shorter, a desert rose can reach a maximum height of 16.4’ feet in its natural habitat.
Grown domestically, most members of this species will have a much smaller height of 3-4’ feet.
Much like its sister plant, Adenium obesum, this species has large ovate leaves which grow along the fingerlike branches of the plant.
The plant is a relatively slow grower, especially from seeds, and new plants may take years to develop their characteristic caudex.
Flowering and Fragrance
Adenium arabicum is a most unusual plant, as the flowers will often bloom before any leaves appear and last into the fall.
The flowers appear in multiples and are flared, tubular blooms measuring just under 2” inches across.
Natural variation means a single plant may have several shades of flower ranging from pink to carmine-red.
Each flower only remains open for 2 to 3 days before giving way to seed pods.
These pods usually develop in pairs and begin as a pale green.
As they mature, the pods become a dull grey-brown and take on a swollen appearance.
Eventually, the pods burst, releasing hundreds of narrow seeds measuring about ½” inches long.
At the end of the seeds are feathery tufts similar to that of dandelion seeds which allow them to be dispersed by the wind along the ground.
Light & Temperature
Desert roses can adapt to the full desert sun but prefer a little afternoon shade.
This species of desert rose has a very limited USDA hardiness zone range of 10a to 11b but is often grown indoors.
As a container plant, it can be taken outdoors during the summer in cooler zones.
Avoid temperatures below 55° degrees Fahrenheit.
Watering and Feeding
Adeniums bushes like its water but can easily suffer root rot if allowed to sit in it.
As a general rule, water thoroughly, allowing the excess to drain away.
When the soil has dried about halfway down, it’s time to water again.
This plant is extremely drought tolerant and stores water in its caudex, so it’s always better to under water than to overwater.
A good organic succulent fertilizer or seaweed fertilizer both work well with this species.
However, it’s best to use a fertilizer marketed specifically for desert rose plants.
Feed the plant once every 2 to 3 weeks in the spring and monthly during summer.
Check out these Adenium Fertilizer and Growing Tips
Soil & Transplanting
Hailing from a desert environment, your adenium prefers a well-drained soil mix with a fair amount of aggregate for extra drainage.
A good quality succulent potting mix makes for a good base, amended with equal parts of an aggregate such as coarse sand, lava rock, or perlite, and either coconut coir or peat moss.
Repotting needs to be done every 2 to 3 years. Remove all soil from the roots and repot in fresh soil, using a container no more than one size larger to prevent excess root growth.
Grooming And Maintenance
Pruning your desert rose helps keep it from getting too big and will also keep it vibrant and healthy.
Pinch out any unwanted growth during the growing season and give your plant a once-over in the fall to remove any damaged or diseased limbs.
Give the plant another once-over early in spring to ensure all parts of it are healthy.
If you start when the plant is young, Adenium arabicum is a great bonsai plant and can be easily shaped.
How To Propagate Desert Rose Adeniums
There are two main ways to propagate a desert rose: cuttings and seeds.
Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, with cuttings growing faster but with a submerged caudex and seeds growing slower but with an exposed caudex.
A third method, grafting, is sometimes employed by European nurseries but is less practical for home growers.
Propagation Through Cuttings
As mentioned, using cuttings will give you a mature plant much faster but will have a submerged caudex.
The good news is that you can later replant the semi-mature plant to expose the caudex without harming the plant.
You’ll want to start off by choosing clippings of at least 6” inches in length and lay them on a towel or paper.
Allow these to dry out in a warm spot away from direct sunlight for 48 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare a pot by lining the bottom with coarse gravel and filling it with an aggregated, well-drained potting soil mix.
You may also make your own mix using equal parts coconut coir or peat, coarse sand or fine gravel, and potting mix.
Dust the cut end of the cuttings with rooting powder and stick it into your potting mix, then give the soil a thorough soak.
Place the plant in a warm, brightly lit area, turning an indoor potted plant every few days so it will grow straight.
Check the soil regularly and mist to keep the soil slightly moist but not wet.
Once the plant begins sprouting leaves, it is ready to transplant to its permanent home or be moved to a spot with full sun.
Propagating by Seed
While possible to propagate through seeds, the process is a little more difficult and will require several years for a mature caudex to develop.
Check out this article on Growing Desert Roses Seeds
Look for seed pods developing on your plant or order seeds from a nursery.
Ripe seeds will appear swollen, and you may wish to secure a bag over the pods to prevent any seeds from being carried away by the wind when the pods burst.
Once the pods burst, remove the feathery-like ends from each seed.
They have a very limited shelf life and should be planted immediately.
Fill a shallow seed tray with an equal mix of coconut coir or peat and either coarse sand or perlite.
Sprinkle the seeds evenly and cover them with a thin layer of sand.
Place the trays in a spot with bright, indirect light and a constant temperature between 80 and 85° degrees Fahrenheit.
Using a spray bottle, saturate the trays, repeating every other day until the seeds have germinated (usually between 3 and 7 days).
Once sprouted, mist the seedlings every few days for about a month, at which time they’re generally large enough to transplant.
Desert Rose Pests or Diseases
A number of pests will target your desert rose, most notably Adenium aphids, mealybugs, oleander caterpillars, scale, and spider mites.
Anthracnose and root rot are also common ailments for these shrubs.
NOTE: All species of desert rose are considered toxic to humans and pets.
As with all members of the dogbane family, the sap is known to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, so it’s best to always wear gloves when handling.