Friday, July 5, 2013

Life saver, anyone?

Life saver plant, that is.

When I visited Candy Suter of Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents in November 2011, she gave me a small cutting of her life saver plant (Huernia zebrina). I’d wanted a specimen since I first saw it in Larry Mellichamp’s book Bizarre Botanicals, so I was thrilled.

Fast forward a year and a half, and that cutting has turned into a small plant (the pot you see in the photos below is 3” in diameter) with a dozen segments. The overall look is that of a typical stapeliad. In fact fact, it looks just like a miniature version of the Orbea variegata I received from my in-laws’ neighbor.

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However, the other day I noticed an addition that hadn’t been there the week before:

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The flower, while only 1¼ inches across, is breathtaking in its shape and markings. Looking at the maroon-colored donut in the center, you can see why it’s called life saver plant. This protruding ring is called an “annulus” in botanical terms.

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The goal behind this fascinating inflorescence, coupled with a very faint rotten smell (very mild compared to other stapeliads), is to attract flies which think that the flower is a decomposing piece of meat. The flies lay their eggs and then move on to the next flower, carrying pollen with them. (The eggs hatch but since there’s nothing for the maggots to eat, they simply die.)

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Like most stapeliads, Huernia zebrina is easy to grow. It likes heat and doesn’t seem to mind regular watering, at least during the summer. It’s hardy in our zone 9b climate so mine stays outside all winter, albeit protected from the winter rain.

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Mealy bugs are a problem, at least for me, but as long as I keep up spraying them with a soapy solution—I prefer Dr. Bonner’s peppermint-scented castile soap—I’m able to keep the buggers in check.

17 comments:

  1. I don't know what to say, except AMAZING. I can't even imagine a plant covered in more of these... it must be hypnotic.

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    1. I agree! A larger plant covered with flowers would win the top award in any succulent show :-)

      I see two more flowers forming on mine...

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  2. That flower certainly is something, love it! Much better looking than Orbea variegata flowers!

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    1. Certainly much more colorful. The way the flowers open is the same: The five pointy segments fold out from the middle. Closed, the flower looks like a piece of origami.

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  3. Yay! That is so awesome! My whole plant died from a large infestation of mealy bugs! May have to get a cutting from you?! LOL Great photos!

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    1. Candy, of course you can have a cutting! This is a very special plant, you of all people should have a specimen.

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  4. What a wonderful plant and amazing flower! Thanks for sharing this wonder with us!

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    1. It's a truly wondrous plant. I feel giddy everytime I see a flower on it.

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  5. i saw one of these at a jewelry shop in jerome az a few weeks ago. now i know more about it! thanks!

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    1. I bet that jewelry store gets a lot of questions about the plant!

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  6. My plant has 3 flowers on it, and I was wondering if it's possible to preserve them? I'm so fascinated by this plant!!

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    1. That is an excellent question! I have no personal experience with this, but maybe spray the flower with a fixative or clear varnish? If you try it, please let me know how it works. Thanks!

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    2. I'll let you know! I snipped it off today & clear fluid dripped out. I'm going to let it sit overnight & spray it tomorrow evening. I hope it works! I bought this on a whim, because I definitely don't have a green thumb! I was so surprised by the flower, and want to keep it around. But I also have 3 more coming in!

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  7. Preserving my flower didn't go so well. As it dried, it just curled in on itself, and shriveled up. I've got 3 more about to open, so I guess I'll just have to take some really good pictures. They sure are amazing flowers!

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