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