By Bonnie L. Grant
Starfish cacti (Stapelia grandiflora) are also more morbidly called the carrion flower. These stinky, but spectacular, plants come from a family of carnivorous insect attracting flora that range in size from a couple of inches high to plants that bear 12 inch wide flowers. This plant species is native to South Africa, so growing starfish flowers usually requires warm, humid temperatures or a specialized greenhouse environment.
Starfish Flower Cactus
These plants aren’t exactly cactus but are members of the succulent group of plants. They are soft stemmed plants without spines, which spread out from a central point. These are thickly skinned and resemble carrion flesh.
Starfish flower cactus may produce amazing 5-petaled flowers that exude a rather unpleasant odor. The scent attracts flies and other insects, which pollinate the blooms. Flowers are red to brown and may be mottled with a couple of colors.
Stapelia is the family name of the starfish flower cactus. The “gigantea” is the most commonly collected, as a showy specimen with foot wide flowers.
Uses of Starfish Cactus
The flowers ripen to a rather horrifying odor after a couple of days. This reek is attractive to insects that seek out dead organic material. If you have a fruit fly infestation or other pest, try moving your stinky plant darling into the area. The insects are drawn to the carrion stench and sit mesmerized on the flower unable to move.
More common uses of starfish cactus are as an ornamental specimen that is quite a conversation piece. The wide succulent branches have little ornamental use themselves, but once the flowers arrive in summer, the plant has a high wow factor. Of course, this is when you must cope with the smell, but you can move it outside if the odor is too offensive. Just remember to bring it back inside if you live in any zone outside of USDA 9 to 11.
Starfish Flower Plant Care
Growing starfish flowers as houseplants is ideal in most zones of the United States. You can move them outside in the heat of summer or grow them in a greenhouse. These starfish flowers are easy to care for and thrive in a variety of light conditions. They will perform well in full to partial sun. Morning light is the best with some protection from harsh midday rays.
The name starfish flower cactus is misleading. The plant does need consistent moisture unlike its true cacti cousins.
Starfish flowers also like to have crowded roots, so keep them in a 4- to 6-inch pot with well-drained soil. Fertilize with a half dilution of indoor plant food in early spring.
Growing Starfish Flowers from Cuttings
If you can handle the smell, you can let the flowers die back and allow seeds to form. Collect the seeds and start them in a warm area to propagate more of these interesting plants. Much easier still is propagation by cuttings.
Remove a 3- to 4-inch section of stem and let the cut end callus. Put the cut end into peat which has been lightly moistened. Place the potted cutting in low light and keep the soil just damp, but not too moist or it will rot.
In time the cutting will become a plant. Repot the baby plant in regular soil and continue with recommended starfish flower plant care. This is a less smelly method of growing starfish flowers and allows you to share this entrancing plant with friends and family.