What is Stapelia?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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Stapelia is a genus that belongs to the Apocynaceae family and consists of 40 to 45 species of plants. All species in this genus are low-growing, succulent plants and natives of South Africa. They grow in the shade of rocks and other plants, usually in deserts and rocky terrains. The plants absorb and retain water in their leaves, stems, and roots. Due to this characteristic, the plants have a more fleshy and plump appearance than some other plants.

The species of this genus are also known as carrion flowers or stinking flowers. There are many plants in various genera and families that are referred to by such names. Naturally, their most prominent attribute is their stinking odor.

Most plants in the Stapelia genus resemble cacti, have hair on them, and emit a smell that is very similar to rotting meat. The smell, hair, and color of these plants fools many pollinators into mistaking them for a piece of meat. Therefore flies, beetles, and blow flies are attracted to them for pollination. Some flowers have intelligent traps inside them to hold the insect for a while to better ensure that the transfer of pollen takes place.


Many species in this genus are used for decoration in homes as potted plants and in rockeries because of their unique appearances. It is the flowers of these species that are most often the main attraction. All species are adaptable to hot and dry climates and can survive without water for many days. They manage to grow well in partial shade even if the temperatures are high. The genus is named after the famous botanist and physician Johannes Van Stapel.

Stapelia gigantea is one of the species in this genus, and it has the biggest flowers. These flowers are about 1.3 feet (0.4 m) in diameter, and the clumps of these plants can be spread as wide as 6.5 feet (2 m). The name gigantea has been given to this species on the basis of its large flowers. This species is commonly acquired by succulent plant collectors. It is also used by the Zulu tribe for the treatment of hysteria.

Another popular species that bears an unusual flower is the Stapelia leendertziae. The flowers of this plant are bell-shaped and large and can be red or dark purple in color. They can grow up to 4.7 inches (12 cm) in length and are commonly found in gardens. This flower can withstand frost and is considered easy to cultivate.


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