Several times a year, Mother Nature plays a prank on me. The smell of rotting flesh sends me into a panic, making me wonder if someone has placed a sizable dead animal in our yard to make some kind of point. The classic "horse torso" scene from The Godfather usually comes to mind. I quickly come to my senses after I realize our Stapelia gigantea is blooming.
The Stapelia gigantea is 1 of around 90 species of succulents called Carrion Plants. This particular species is native to southern Africa but was given to us many years ago as a house warming gift by a fellow herper. Several times a year, and typically after a heavy rain, it produces huge buds and flowers, which measure 8 to 12 inches across. Each flower is 5-pointed. A number of common names have been derived from the star-like appearance such as Hairy starfish flower, Star cactus and Starfish cactus. The last two names are a bit misleading since it's not a cactus at all.
So why the odor? These flowers have evolved to produce properties that attract flies. As I mentioned earlier, the odor is strong and putrid, similar to decaying meat. The flies are lured to the flower and, in turn, pollinate neighboring flowers as they move on in their search for a host to lay their eggs. Personally, I like the good ole bumble-bee and simple wind pollination systems better but, you have to admit, the flower is something to behold.
The Stapelia gigantea, also known as the Zulu Giant, Carrion flower, Hairy starfish flower, Star cactus and Starfish cactus.