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.
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.