Stapelia gigantea: large, hairy and stinky flowers

Large, hairy and stinky flowers. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

I think so!

I'm super excited because my Stapelia gigantea is finally blooming. I’ve had it for three years and have overwintered it outside without ill effects. I don’t know why it didn’t bloom before but I assume it has to be a certain size. Take a look at this beauty!


But let’s rewind a bit. I first noticed three weeks ago that flowers were forming:


October 4, 2013

Once they got going, they were growing quite quickly:


October 11, 2013

The closed flowers do look alien. You know there’s something inside, but you don’t quite know what it could be. I was thinking of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.


131015_Stapelia-gigantea_04  131016_Stapelia-gigantea_31

Yesterday afternoon I noticed that two of the three flowers were beginning to open up.



This morning they were fully open…


…revealing flowers of otherworldly beauty. This one is almost 10” in diameter.


You can see why Stapelia gigantea is sometimes called “starfish flower.”


The maroon markings on the inside look a bit like squiggly worms…


…while from behind the flower reminds me of a lenten rose (hellebore).


And then there are the hairs.


Lots of them.


I think it’s those hairs that make people recoil when they first see these flowers (at least that’s how my wife and kids reacted).


As for me, I find the flowers very attractive even though they’re not brightly colored. The hairs and soft and fuzzy. I love touching them, much like lamb’s ears.



In fact, I think the stems are beautiful, too:


As for that famous smell that gives Stapelia gigantea its other common name, carrion flower, I was surprised by how mild it is. In fact, this morning when the temperature was in the mid 50s, I barely detected any smell. Now, at 1pm, it’s definitely a bit stronger up close but it’s still nothing like the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) I saw in bloom at UC Davis a few years ago.


Stapelia gigantea is native to southeastern Africa. It forms large clumps up to 6 ft. across. In cultivation, it’s rated as a zone 9a plant, which would make it hardy to approx. 20°F.

As you can see in the photos above, my specimen is in a pot on top of a rack so the flowers can hang down. This is the only way I’ve seen it in cultivation. I’m thinking of rooting a few cuttings and planting them out. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about the flowers breaking off under their own weight.

There you have it, another bizarre plant from my collection.


  1. That's really cool! Love the macro shots, as I kept thinking "closer, closer!" when I saw the first photos. :) I like the hairs!

    1. The hairs are so cool. Nobody wants to touch them except for me.

  2. It's a fun looking flower that's for sure!

    1. Too bad my stapelia didn't wait another two weeks to bloom. It would have been a perfect Halloween flower.

  3. Great documentation! Thanks for sharing. I'm off to the store (somewhere) to buy one to add to my collection ;)

    1. Stapelia gigantea isn't rare but I'm not sure local nurseries will have it. Your best bet is mailorder. Arid Lands has 5" plants for $12 (see here).

  4. That is such a cool flower. I love the hairs and the squiggly red lines. The bud does look very much like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

    1. One of my favorite plant books is Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross. My goal is to eventually collect all the plants described in that book. Yes, Stapelia gigantea is among them.

  5. Now that is a very exciting plant!

  6. Fabulous photos! The only bloom I've seen in person was at the Huntington. It was at ground level and although I was tempted to get down at its level for a close up I did not. Your way is much easier!

    1. I agree, having the plant at eye (and nose) level makes for a more visual and olfactory experience. For some reason, though, I'm having a hard time getting people to take a whiff.

  7. Those photos are incredible Gerhard! You can see every little hair. How exciting. I remember seeing these at the Huntington also and peuwww!

  8. I love Stapelias!!! I think they rely on flies as polinators, that is why they smell. I do not know about the functions of the hairs though, but I doubt they would try to catch and tangle up their polinators, that seems silly :) I had a Stapelia variegata flowering in my room once (approx 12 square meters) and boy, that was the smell... When you were there all the time, you did not even notice, but when you walked in from somewhere else... bleh!! :) Outoors they are ok. Have you ever HEARD a flower open?? It is very loud, it makes kind of a cracking sound as the petals separate. Try moving one into your bedroom before it opens, I bet one morning you will be in your bed, just slowly waking up and suddenly you will think "what was that sound"? and you will look at the plant and see that the flower started opening. When I was sixteen, I sat down in front of mine and just watched with open mouth, it was so incredible to me. (of course, all my experience comes from S. variegat, so maybe gigantea is different).

    1. Wow, I had no idea the flowers make a NOISE when they open. That sounds so cool--and a bit freaky. I'll try to catch one opening next year!

      The smell didn't seem so bad in the morning when it was cooler but in the middle of the afternoon it was pretty strong. Not like rotten meat, just somewhat foul :-).

    2. I also find that it is stronger when the weather is hot. I have a tiny littleplantie at home now, I hope I get to see it flower soon.

    3. It flowered and it was wonderful! Bigger than my hand, I love this plant!

    4. Yeah!!! I'm so glad to hear that. It should flower every year from now on.

  9. Thanks for all the info' all my questions have been answered.

  10. I have one that blooms a deep maroon color. Just this morning I saw something I had never noticed before. What I had previously thought were pollen specs on the bloom were moving. I suppose they are tiny maggots, which seems really gross! I'm hoping they will only serve to help pollinate the plant and will die before they mature. Any experience with this?

    1. Anette, your stapelia is probably Stapelia grandiflora. The flowers are a different color from Stapelia gigantea.

      The tiny critters are indeed maggots. See this post from October when my stapelia was flowering:

    2. I love this plant. I call it my own version of the "corpse flower."

  11. I love this plant. Purchased it mail order from a CA. grower this past spring. It was a small rooted cutting when I received has now filled a 10 inch pot and is on its 3rd bloom.Living in NJ it has been out side all summer but coming inside for the winter.


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