Carrion Flower Stapelia – Giant Cactus Starfish Plant [GROWING & CARE]

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The Stapelia flower, aka starfish cactus plant, belongs to the family Asclepiadaceae, the same family as the milkweed plant. 

Other common names for this plant include Carrion flower, Toad Cactus, and Carrion cactus.

carrion flower - Stapelia giant starfish cactus flowerPin

These interesting, exotic succulent plants are a member of the genus Stapelia, which grows naturally in South Africa and in tropical regions.

There are about ninety members of this succulent plant group. The most striking feature of this plant is the large, star-shaped flowers that appear in late summer to fall.

These flowers look very unusual, with their strange, donut-like centers and bright, splashy markings.

Starfish Cactus Quick Care Tips

  • Botanical Name: Stapelia gigantea
  • Common Name(s): Carrion Stapelia, Giant Toad Plant, Starfish Flower
  • Synonyms: Stapelia nobilis, Stapelia grandiflora
  • Family & Origin: Asclepiadaceae family, native to South Africa
  • Growability: Easy to grow
  • Grow Zone: USDA zones 10-11
  • Size: Grows up to 6-8′ inches tall and wide
  • Flowering: Blooms in summer with large, star-shaped flowers that emit a foul odor to attract flies for pollination
  • Light: Prefers bright, indirect light but can tolerate some direct sun
  • Humidity: Tolerates low humidity levels
  • Temperature: Thrives in warm temperatures between 50°F and above
  • Soil: Well-draining soil mixed with sand or perlite
  • Water: Water sparingly, allowing soil to dry out between waterings
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize once a month during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer
  • Pests & Diseases: Susceptible to mealybugs and spider mites, as well as root rot if overwatered
  • Propagation: Propagate through stem cuttings or by division
  • Plant Uses: Makes a unique and interesting addition to any indoor or outdoor garden, and can also be used as a conversation piece due to its unusual odor and appearance.
Spotted star-shaped flower, succulent backdrop.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @wiredimage

Stapelia Varieties – Four Popular Choices:

#1 – Stapelia variegata usually grows about 6″ inches high. It produces very pretty yellow flowers with interesting purplish-brown patterns. The blossoms are usually two or three inches across.

#2 – Stapelia hirsuta is another popular member of this group. Its slightly furry stems are longer and a bit slimmer than those of S. variegata, reaching a height of about 8″ inches.

The deep purplish-brown flowers are also hirsute (hairy) and quite flashy. The petals have yellow stripes, and the fine hair that coats the blossoms is rusty red.

These blooms are usually 4″ or 5″ inches across.

Large star-shaped flower with unique patterns.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @quidon

#3 – Stapelia grandiflora, also known as Starfish cactihas very long, slim stems. They can grow about a foot long and are covered with fine, velvety fur.

The flowers are impressively large at 6″ inches across. They are a very deep red. In fact, they sometimes appear to be black. The edges of the blossoms are trimmed in white.

#4 – Stapelia gigantea has truly gigantic flowers. In fact, they are some of the largest flowers to be found among all flowering plants.

Even though the thick, velvety stems of the plant only grow to be about 6″ or 8″ inches long, the flowers can be as large as 6″ inches across.

The blossoms are a very pale shade of yellow with very thin, red stripes.

NOTE: There are many other different species to collect. Check cactus and succulent nurseries for other varieties.

Stapelia Flower – What’s That Smell?

Even with all these good looks, the most unusual feature of this plant is its peculiar scent.

Starfish cactus is sometimes referred to as Carrion cactus because it exudes the odor of rotting meat. [source]

Strange as this may seem, as with all things in nature, there is a good reason for this feature.

The smell of rotting meat attracts flies, which lay their eggs on the flower and incidentally spread pollen from one flower to another.

Other ‘smelly” plant is the corpse flower and Huernias.

How Strong Do These Stapelia Flowers Smell?

Perception of this rotten smell varies from person to person. Some people say the foul smell is overwhelming, like rotting flesh.

"Unique spotted flower with vibrant patterns"Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @the_seed_story

Others say you can barely smell it unless you put your nose very close to a flower. Naturally, the setting makes a big difference.

If you keep your Carrion plant in a small, warm sun porch or greenhouse, you will smell them more strongly than in a large, open room or outdoors.

The Starfish Plant Succulent Cactus Looks Make Up For The Smell!

Regardless of their odd odor, Stapeliads are good-looking plants. The plants only bloom from mid-summer until early autumn.

When they are not in bloom, the knobby, furrowed, succulent stems make an attractive and interesting addition to your plant collection.

When they do bloom, these flowering “cacti” are always showy and impressively large compared to the plant’s size.

The blossoms appear low on the plant, leaving the interesting, fleshy stems towering above the blooms.

How Do You Take Care Of A Starfish Plant?

As succulents, starfish flower plants are very easy to care for.

They grow quite a bit and need some tending during the spring and summer, but they are carefree through the winter and spring.

During the warm summer months, your plants can live outdoors in full sun.

Starfish flower Stapelia plant up closePin

In winter, keep them as houseplants in a bright room above 50° degrees Fahrenheit.

The Basics Of Stapelia Gigantea Care Requirements:

Bright Indirect Light: Indoors or outdoors, starfish plants like lots of bright, indirect sunlight with few hours of direct sunlight. It also thrives in partial shade in the morning sun. Protect them against the direct sun as it can be damaging.

NOTE: Years ago, I successfully grew the Starfish cactus outdoors in full sun in South Florida.

Temperature: They prefer a warm temperature and should be kept above 50° degrees Fahrenheit in the wintertime. However, it can tolerate low light conditions.

Feeding: These plants do not need fertilizer.

Water Needs: Wait for the soil to dry completely between waterings. Water sparingly at all times and very little during the winter. Wait for the stems to shrivel a bit in wintertime before watering lightly. Moreover, excess moisture should be avoided to prevent problems.

Spotted red star-shaped cactus flower in a pot.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram

Soil: As with most succulents, Stapelia plants like light, airy, well-drained succulent soil. Because you will not provide fertilizer, your cactus soil potting mix should have drainage holes and contain quite a bit of natural organic matter. It should not be too acidic. You can also amend the potting soil with coarse sand, coconut coir, peat moss, pumice, and perlite.

Repotting: Repot, transplant, or propagate your Stapelia flower in the springtime, just before the growing season. Select a low, wide pot that allows the plant to spread.

Be sure to put a layer of pebbles, pot shards, or Styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom of the pot to provide good drainage.

Grooming: There is no regular pruning for this succulent plant. Just remove any dead or unsightly stems. Remove the flowers when they stop blooming.

USDA Hardiness zones: 10 to 11

Starfish Flower Cactus On Succulent (Stapelia gigantea)

How To Propagate Star Cactus Flowers?

You can start these succulents easily from cuttings. Unlike many succulents, they are also quite easy to grow from seed.

Cuttings should be taken in the springtime. Use a sharp knife to cut off a healthy baby plant stem near the base of the plant.

Allow the succulent stem cuttings to air overnight, and then place it (cut end down) in a pot of cactus mix or your own soil mixture. Care for it as you would an adult plant.

Seeds are large and flat and easy to work with. Just sow them on the surface of a shallow tray (or individual seed pots) of cactus mix or your own soil mixture.

Cover them very lightly with soil. Mist the surface of the soil with water and keep the uncovered containers in a warm (60° – 65° degrees Fahrenheit) bright area.

Your seedlings should sprout in a few days.

4 Pests & Problems

#1 – Overwatering can cause black stem rot and root rot, which cannot be cured.

If the base of your starfish succulent becomes black and mushy, you may be able to save a few good cuttings to start new plants, but the parent plant is done for.

If just a few small areas of the plant exhibit rot, you may be able to save the parent plant by carefully cutting out the rotted areas.

Starry succulent flower in pot with pebbles.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @davidson_greenhouse_nursery

#2 – Underwatering can cause stems to become shriveled and flabby. Luckily, this is an easy fix.

Just set the whole pot into a tray of water and allow it to soak until the soil is completely saturated.

Let excess water drain off, and then keep an eye on your plant. Remember to water it again when the soil becomes completely dry, but before the stems begin to suffer.

#3 – If your plant has been suffering in any way, it may attract red spider mites.

When this happens, you will see yellow stippling on the stems and tiny dots (mites) scattered throughout.

Try wiping them off with a cotton ball dampened with water or with isopropyl alcohol.

You may need to repeat this treatment several times. If this doesn’t work, use a horticultural miticide product.

#4 – Scale insects and mealybugs also like to plague succulent plants. You can use a knife blade to scrape mealy bugs off and/or pick them off with tweezers.

Treat with horticultural oil, such as Neem pesticide oil and/or insecticidal soap, if the problem persists.

Why Choose The Starfish Flower?

If you like unusual, interesting plants that are long-lived, easy to care for, and intensely beautiful, the Stapelia is the plant group for you!

The popular varieties are easy to come by at standard nurseries, at succulent specialty shops, online, and from gardening friends.

Star-shaped flower with striking patterns on a tablePin
Photo Credit: Instagram @bevalberts

Even if you have not had a lot of luck with plants in the past, collecting Stapelia can provide you with an easy, exciting, exotic, and successful horticultural adventure. [source]

With dozens of varieties available, you can amass an impressive collection of very unusual and deceptively hardy starfish cactus plants if you enjoy collecting them.

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