July 17, 2015

Stapelia asterias in bloom: this flower stinks

I have this beautiful succulent on my balcony, Stapelia asterias, which is currently blooming. I always appreciated the tiger-like pattern to the petals, but as a member of the carrion flower group, its odor is apparently supposed to resemble rotting meat to attract carrion flies, its pollination vector. As a bonus, it also smells like poop. I learned this one day when I cut some freshly opened flowers and brought them inside to admire. It is better to admire them through a closed window as it turns out. Would a carrion flower by any other name smell as putrid?

According to Wikipedia, Stapelia is now in the Apocynaceae family, although when I learned about it in Plant Taxonomy 20 years ago, it was still in Asclepiadaceae, which has since been renamed Asclepiadoideae and reclassified as a subfamily within Apocynaceae. Confused? That's taxonomy for you and why I went into biochemistry. But I'm curious to know what the volatiles looks like. With some luck I can get around to doing a volatile collection in the lab to see the volatile profile of this lovely though stinky gift of nature. Endless forms most beautiful indeed.

Another view showing the magnificent pigmentation on the petals.


  1. Some carrion flies are getting really disappointed... hoping to find delicious poop and finding a weird looking flower instead

    1. I think we're all disappointed when that happens. Plants are fundamentally deceitful creatures.