Stapelia gigantea (Carrion Flower)
Plant image

Stapelia gigantea is characterised by its large, purple, fowl-smelling flowers that attract pollinating flies.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Stapelia gigantea

Common names:
Carrion Flower, African Starfish Flower (English) Aasblom (Afrikaans)

Plant family:

Plant categories:
Cacti and Succulents; Groundcovers

Name derivation & history:
Members of the genus Stapelia are usually characterized by their foul-smelling flowers reminiscent of the odour of rotting meat or carrion.



Leaf habit:


1 to 2 metres

Plant shape:
Stapelias are low, perennial, spreading succulents.

Leaf description:
Each stem tubercle bears a small leaf rudiment, which is short-lived and leaves a round scar at the tip of the tubercle.

Flower description:
Large (15 to 30cm), star-shaped purple flowers covered in short hairs.

Flower colour:

Flowering months:
March to April

Flower scent:
Strong odour of rotting flesh

Fruit description:
The large (15 to 20cm) fruit (follicles) are pubescent, sometimes containing a large number of seeds.

Seed description:
Seeds have a thin outer margin and a tuft of hairs (coma) helping with wind dispersal.

Bark or stem description:
The stems are almost always erect and, depending on the extent of exposure to the sun, are greyish-green with darker purple in the grooves between the angles. Thickness of the stems varies from 5 to 50mm in diameter. Tubercles on the stems are laterally flattened and vertically joined into continuous rows, rendering the stems 4-angled.


Natural distribution:
Occurs in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

It grows in many habitats and may form clumps of 1 to 2 metres in diameter.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:
Semi-hardy (tolerates mild frost for short periods)

Light conditions:
Sun; semi-shade; shade

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Has non-aggressive roots
Suitable for growing in containers
Low maintenance

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.


Interaction with physical surroundings:
Members of this strictly entomophilous (strongly associated with insects) genus occupy a wide diversity of habitats, mostly in arid areas. The putrid smell of the flowers of many species attracts flies and other insects for pollination (myophily). It has been reported that flies are sometimes so deceived by the odour that they lay their eggs around the fleshy corona, convinced that it will be a food source for their hatching larvae.

The male and female parts of the flower and various membranes and sacs are fused into a complex structure which usually traps the mouthparts or legs of insects. A clip attached to two pollen sacs of the plant is attached to an insect in its struggle to free itself. This is deposited on the next flower visited where the pollen germinates, causes fertilization and the development of seed.

Individual flowers are mostly short-lived, but in some cases plants have extended flowering periods through the sequential formation of new ones under favourable conditions.

The light seed with its coma and wing-like margin, is adapted to wind dispersal.

Most species appear to be relatively short-lived under natural conditions. They are generally widely scattered, and populations sometimes vary considerably in density over time, even disappearing from a locality where they were previously plentiful.
Attracts insects

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
Parts of Stapelia gigantea have been reported to be used by the Zulus as a remedy for hysteria. These plants are, however, mainly sought by collectors of succulent plants.

Pests & diseases:
Woolly aphids on the roots and underground stems and mealy bugs on the stems and bases are the most common problems. A strong jet of water or a 50/50 mix of methylated spirits and water can be used to eradicate these pests.

Black rot, a secondary infection after woolly aphid attacks, is also problematic. Remove all traces of black rot with a sterile knife, spray the plant with Benelate and dust with flowers of sulphur. As soon as stem rot is noticed, the affected parts should immediately be cut away and destroyed.

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