Stinky greenhouse. Stapelia gigantea.

Recently I promised more regular visits to see what is in bloom in the greenhouse. And just at the moment there are some enormous and rather weird blooms on display. But if you could visit here on a sunny day, you might not want to linger long because it smells as if something has died.

Stapelia gigantea

If you have delicate sensibilities you might object to the smell and you will be revolted by this plant’s rather gruesome habits. It is not insectivorous exactly, but it relies on flies to pollinate it. It comes from arid, desert areas of South Africa where there is a lack of butterflies and bees. It is sometimes known as the Carrion Flower because not only does it stink, but the flower is supposed to resemble carrion in order to attract flies to pollinate it. It is flesh- coloured, it has wavy concentric lines like veins and the flowers are edged with fur.

The petals feel like soft suede. Flies are attracted by the smell and the appearance and they lay their eggs on it and pick up pollen. Actually, I never get seeds in mine so perhaps I have the wrong -sized flies. The maggots soon die of starvation so they fall off and presumably nourish the roots.

I know this all sounds absolutely disgusting, but let’s look at it another way. An alternative name for it is Starfish Cactus and indeed it does look like a starfish.

If you go in the greenhouse on a dull day, there is no smell. And the starfish -like flowers are amazing, they look unreal, or as if someone has knitted them. And the buds are wonderful too; they take ages to plump up until eventually they look just like balloons.

In summer these plants lives in a sunny spot in my greenhouse and get regular watering. Flowering is stimulated by the shortening days. In winter they have to come inside because they can’t take temperatures below 10c. They need to be kept very dry in winter so I leave them on spare bedroom window sills and forget about them.

Stapelea gigantea has succulent, four-angled stems which are spineless and velvety to the touch. It looks like a cactus but it actually belongs to the Milkweed family.

I have read that Stapelia gigantea can become invasive in warm climates and in Hawaii it has become a menace, but there is no chance of that happening here in the UK. It won’t seed around, but it is easy from cuttings. If you want a really unusual plant for the greenhouse then why not give it a try? The huge flowers will stop visitors in their tracks. They can be as big as 10-16 inches across and another name for it is Zulu Giant. If you can’t stand the smell, you can always keep it outside in summer in a sunny spot but it shouldn’t be moved once the buds have formed because they might drop off.

Readers of my blog will know that I have a passion for nerines and they are the stars of my October greenhouse, helping me to forget that winter is coming. They are now full of buds and some of them are blooming, so next time I take you into the greenhouse it will be to have a look. Nerines are fabulous with beautiful, starry flowers, luminous colours and no flies or horrible smell.

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15 Responses to Stinky greenhouse. Stapelia gigantea.

  1. croftgarden says:

    What an amazing plant and a fascinating ecology. I grow various aroids, but nothing to rival this, but some are also quite smelly.

  2. I think it’s fascinating. Thanks for sharing! I’m not sure I’d be able to last a long time inside the greenhouse with it when it’s blooming, but it IS fascinating!

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    What a curiosity. A beautiful flower, but I think I’ll pass on growing it!

  4. krispeterson100 says:

    They are fantastic flowers. My plant is outside in the open air and I saw it when it opened rather than smelled it but then I didn’t get my nose too close either…

  5. tonytomeo says:

    Yuck!
    A common dragon lily bloomed here earlier in the year, but was not so bad.

  6. I love it! Thanks for sharing. Luckily I don’t have the windowsill space for it, so can’t be tempted.

  7. pbmgarden says:

    This is wildly interesting. The starfish simile is more palatable. I’ve not seen one in bloom but was with a friend who purchased one. (She later realized what she had and returned it.) After admiring yours I planted nerines and two survived but no sign of buds on mine. Will watch more closely now. Have a great week.

  8. That is a very interesting plant. I have a similar one, but it has only bloomed once.

  9. Amazing! Nature is wonderfully diverse, isn’t it?

  10. bittster says:

    How wonderfully repulsive, and I see you have at least two! It’s scary to think they might be invasive somewhere, and fill the landscape with the sun-ripened stench of dead things when the season is right. I would have to travel out of my way to see that of course!

  11. Cathy says:

    Strangely beautiful but the perfume would not tempt me to try growing it I fear! So interesting to read about it and see it from a safe distance though. 😉 The Nerines sound more my cup of tea.

  12. Certainly a very striking plant … and a little creepy.

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  14. snowbird says:

    I didn’t receive an email notification for this post, how odd! I popped along to see if I had missed a post, I’m so glad I did. This took my breath away, the fur and the plant generally are truly amazing. Who knew things like this exist. I have a dragon lily so I completely understand what this smells like, it’s truly gruesome isn’t it. I had mine outside and couldn’t get within a foot of it.xxx

  15. That plant sounds like an alien species that ‘vegetated’, Liz! How intrepid of you to grow it. It’s the only plant you grow that I wouldn’t!

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