Stapelia Variegata – The Earth Bound Star

If you found a stapelia growing on a window sill on Mars, it wouldn’t surprise you. Even in its native Africa, this strange plant has an out-of-this-world look.

Botanically, it is described as a succulent with four-angled. leafless stems. It grows quite close to the ground. never reaching more than a foot in height. All of its 100 or more varieties have the characteristic five-pointed starlike flowers mottled in purplish tones or brown and white and often with hairy, fringed petals. The flowers. which bloom in the Northern Hemisphere in the fall, always grow from the base of the stem and vary in width from 1 to 10 inches – often larger than the plant itself.

Stapelia is a native of Cape Province in South Africa and is especially well-known on Table Mountain in the Cape of Good Hope. As the annual rainfall in this district is often less than 10 inches, this genus has to be extremely drought-resistant to survive. During extended dry periods, stems often shrivel. No permanent harm results, however, if water is again applied at the proper season.

stapelia variegata

Outdoors, this plant can be grown in warmer sections of the United States subject to very light winter frosts. Here in Santa Barbara, where the temperature seldom falls below 27, stapelia becomes well established in any spot with plenty of sun and perfect drainage.

In all sections of the country, it makes a fine indoor pot plant. Rooted pieces or clusters should be planted in a shallow pot, where they will root readily in loose soil mixed with plenty of sand. The bottom of the pot should be filled with gravel, crushed stone or broken pieces of pots. Perfect drainage is essential. Water sparingly at all times, especially in cold weather, as too much moisture causes rot. Apply food in small amounts only during periods of rapid growth. Keep in a south window with as much sun and warmth as possible at all times.

One of the most amazing characteristics of stapelia is its method of seed dispersion. A close relative of the milkweed, it has the same long, tubular shell-like seed pods. When ripe, these split open, allowing air-borne seeds as light as spindrift to float upon the breeze.

The bloom of Stapelia variegata is a study in design, a living example of the beauty constantly presented to our sometimes unseeing eyes, a perfect example of nature’s handiwork.

“There is a stranger in our midst
With starry eyes and stubby fingers
And his name is Stapelia.”

by L Huggins – 63496

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