Stapeliads (2006)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (October 2006)

The Stapeliad genera belong to the Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed) family, tribe Stapelieae. These genera are all stem succulents with thick, soft, juicy branches with low ribs or tubercles. They do not have leaves.

Their five-pointed, fleshy “starfish” flowers have 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 adapt to our wetter home and greenhouse environments. In fact, most of these species are very easy to grow.

Stapeliads do best with the brightest light possible all year long. Their potting mix should drain well, as the plants easily rot if left in a wet or moist pot for very long. In the summer, be sure the mix is completely dry before watering again. In the winter, water the plants 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! 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. Seeds germinate easily in two to three days. Seedlings should bloom in their second year. For maximum floral display, repot frequently. Flowers only appear on newer stems, so older stems can be removed without losing flowering potential.

Genera in this group include Caralluma, Diplocyatha, Duvalia, Echidnopsis, Edithcolea, Frerea, Hoodia, Hoodiopsis, Huernia, Huerniopsis, Luckhoffia, Orbea, Orbeanthus, Orbeopsis, Pachycymbium, Pectinaria, Piaranthus, Stapelia, Stultitia and Tavaresia.

There is a special class for these plants in the Henry Shaw Cactus and Succulent Society show. In 2006, Nikki Murdick took first place with her Stapelia nobilis.