Stapelia (2010)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (October 2010)

Anyone would have recognized it. It seemed a shared subconscious knowledge, an icy blackness beyond instinct, beyond words.

It was a repugnant stench, an unmistakable odor, the putrid scent of decay. An uneasy feeling followed, a need to quickly avert one’s eyes, a need to flee. However, this was quickly suppressed by the need to see.

It was unsettling just to look upon it. It was unnaturally fleshy. The red and yellow coloring, on anything else, would have been pretty. Recoiling sharply, the flower’s long petals seemed unwilling to frame their own center. Ugly red hairs draped the petals with the appearance of broken blood vessels or fine webbing. A sickly yellowish coloring encircled the dark center of the flower. Its center was blood red. It was an evil flower.

Stapelias. Something about them just seems to harmonize with the haunted mood of October. I was looking through the books Stapeliads of Southern Africa and Madagascar, volumes 1 and 2, from the HSCS library one day, and in them I found a vast amount of information on stapelias.

These plants usually grow in dry, mountainous locations throughout southern Africa. From what I read, South Africa and Namibia seem to have the majority of species, but others are listed in Zimbabwe, Angola and Botswana.

The stems of these plants, in my opinion, are rather plain looking. In a strange and paradoxical way, while most species flowers smell of rot, it is their stems that unfortunately most often do so. Stapelias frequently die from something chillingly known as black rot.