– Stapeliads (2002)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (August 2002)

The Stapeliad genera belong to the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed) family, tribe Stapelieae. These genera are all stem succulents with thick, soft and juicy branches. The branches have low ribs or tubercles. They do not have leaves. Their “starfish” flowers are five-pointed and fleshy, with intricate color and structural patterns. While the flowers are amazing visually, they often smell like dead meat to attract their pollinators, flies.

Most stapeliads come from the desert areas of southern Africa, though a few reside as far north as Spain and as far east as Burma. While these plants evolved for dry climates, most will adapt to our wetter home and greenhouse environments. In fact, most of these species are very easy to grow.

Stapeliads do best in the brightest light possible – all year round. The potting mix should be well-draining, as the plants easily rot if left in a wet or moist pot for very long. In the summer, be sure that the mix is completely dry before watering again. In the winter, water the plant when you see a slight shriveling of the stems.

Mealy bugs are the worst enemies of stapeliads, so keep an eye out for those nasty, fuzzy white specks. (The only good mealy is a dead mealy, I say. Stabbing them with a toothpick is quite satisfying.) Black rot can also affect these plants. If black patches appear, cut them out immediately.

Stapeliads propagate readily from stem cuttings. For maximum floral display, repot frequenty. Flowers appear only on newer stems, so older stems can be removed without losing flowering potential. Seeds germinate easily in two or three days. Seedling should bloom in their second year.

Genera included in this group: Caralluman, Diplocyatha, Duvalia, Echindnopsis, Edithcolea, Frerea, Hoodia, Hoodiopsis, Huernia, Huerniopsis, Luckhoffia, Orbea, Orbeanthus, Orbeopsis, Pachycymbium, Pectinaria, Piaranthus, Stapelia, Stultitia and Tavaresia.

References: Grow Succulents, Kirstenbosch Garden Series and An Introduction to the Stapeliads, by Marlene Rainman.