Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's That Smell?

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.


Darlene said...

Excellent post and photo! As I read this, one thought runs through my mind over and over again. That thought is that I am SO glad that this is not a house plant!


Jim said...

Thanks Baby! You know, now that you mention it, we probably should bring it in so all those flies don't congregate on the front sidewalk.

Txstraub said...

Wow Jim! That is a beautiful flower! It's strange that you have the smell of "death" around you and here in Oregon everything is really taking off to bloom since their heat wave last week. Jason & I just wandered through a gorgeous municipal park & rose garden in Salem. I couldn't even guess at how many varieties they have in over 25 beds. Oh and the lilac trees were in bloom. My goodness, what a fragrance! Just a little too purple for my taste. We miss you guys!

Darlene said...

Hi Michelle! =)
Your description of Oregon is breath-taking! ::deep inhale::


Sure, why not add flies to our collection for Addams Family-ism critters? ;-) BTW, THING is supposed to arrive via UPS this afternoon!

Beth said...

Hi Jim,

This post went out to our entire update list. I am gonna make you famous!!


Jungle Pete said...

very cool. Beautiful photo and I can almost smell the stink.

L.A. Mitchell said...

What an awesome display of stink. Truly beautiful. Aren't dead flies a welcome commodity around the critter den? Seems financially savvy to me:)

I'm ALMOST afraid to ask what THING is.

Darlene said...

I think my mention of "Thing" was a bit confusing. Sorry that I did not explain myself. A co-worker from a previous job referred to Jim and I as "The Addams Family" because of our creepy collection of critters and pets.

More about Thing T. Thing

Jim told me that he thought that something actually was being delivered but I was just joking. Sorry, Dear. ;-)

Derek said...

Hmmm, I don't really care for any of those common names for the plant. I mean, if you're not familiar with the plant and you see "Carrion Flower" you're really likely to think it's stinky and not give it a chance, and that's not fair for such a beautiful plant. However, if you see "Hairy Starfish Flower" you are likely to buy it and get all excited the first time it blooms and then also likely to make one heck of an ugly grimmace the first time you stick your face right down into the flower to smell it. "Is that rotting meat I smell?!!" Why not make everyone happy and call it the "Hairy Stinky Starfish Flower"? It is quite a beautiful flower. Thanks for the bit of education there, Jim.

And thanks for clearing that Thing up, Darlene......ummm, I think. Who's on first? And when is the UPS guy dropping him off?

Steve's girl said...

Wow, what a pretty flower and a nice photo! I bet the smell keeps the critters from nibbling on it!

Thanks for sharing. Once again I learned something from your blog!