Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stapelia gigantea.....The sentimental and the disgusting

Stapelia gigantea, is, sensibly enough, a species of Stapeliad, a tribe (group of related genera) in the Dogbane Family, Apocynaceae. They are succulent plants, primarily but not exclusively, native to Africa. It is a curious alliance; the plants are oddly constructed and bear symmetrical flowers in a variety of forms that are unconventionally beautiful. This is the commonest one and I had the species from my Grandmother. That would be sentimental except that I somehow lost it...I don't remember how. Either I gave it away or froze it. I can't imagine another way to kill it!.......But wait we resentimentalize; About 15 years ago I was talking to the late Hildreth Morton, for 40 years the proprietress of Bittersweet Hills (herb) Nursery, a woman not afraid to speak her mind. We were looking at a weedy scraggly specimen of hers. She always had wonderful, unusual, interesting plants, plants you wouldn't see in other nurseries, but they frequently needed work after you got them home! I got to reminiscing about my Grandmother's plants and Hildreth, in a most un-Hildrethlike way, got all soft and broke off a big piece of this and gave it to me. She was a wonderful woman and I would have loved her anyway. I am careful not to leave it out too late in the fall.

That's the sentimental part; the disgusting part is that this species, like many other Stapeliads, and a good percentage of desert plants, emits a floral odor of dead meat in order to attract the blowflies that then pollinate it. If you look closely at the center of this plant you can see the strategy is working effectively.

1 comment:

David said...

Nice -- stapeliads are great. Most botanists now put the render the Asclepiadoideae as a monophyletic subfamily of the Apocynaceae. Regardless -- they are some of my favourite plants!

Great shot!