Caralluma hesperidum Maire
Growth Habits: The plant has sprawling stems that are light green or greyish in colour, strikingly mottled with a reddish brown. The stems have relatively large toothed protuberances that also make the plant look attractive. In my opinion this is one of the few Asclepidaceae species where the plant is more attractive than the flower. The plants are relatively short lived, usually starting to die off from the middle outwards. So it is always an advantage to get cuttings from the parent plant to grow on.
Scientific name: Caralluma hesperidum
Common names: Carrion plant
Synonym: Caralluma decaisneana ssp. hesperidum, Angolluma hesperidum, Caralluma commutata ssp. hesperidum
Etymology: As of this moment I have been unable to come up with any name origins for this plant.
Origin: Africa (Morocco)
Light: The plant will take full sun, but does much better in bright, but indirect light.
Compost: A very gritty open compost is the best for these plants as they are intolerant of wet compost. However they should not be allowed to dry out completely or the fleshy roots will wither.
Water: Average water in summer, but must be kept much drier in the winter months. If cold weather is the norm in your area, do not water at all.
Flower: The plants usually flower towards the end of summer. The flower is 5-lobed and star shaped. Blackish purple in colour and quite ‘fleshy‘ looking. They are carried in clusters along the stems. The flowers are usually pollinated by flies that are attracted by the pungent smell of the flower, that is reminiscent of rotting meat.
Fruit: The plant produces the twin horned papery seed pods that are so reminiscent of the family.
Min. temp.: The plant certainly needs to be kept at 45°f. (8°c.) during the winter months and will not stand any frost at all.
Cultivation: The plants are a challenge for the grower to keep in tip top condition. In winter they may shrivel quite alarmingly. A fine mist spray with warm water on a sunny day, helps with this, but do it early morning so the plant stems have a chance to dry. Black rot can be a problem and is usually caused by over enthusiastic watering and unless a stem or two can be saved as a cutting. It usually spells the demise of the plant. Since these plants flower better when they are slightly cramped, they only need to be repotted when they aren't making satisfactory growth.
Habitat: I have to be honest and say that I know very little of the habitat (Morocco), but I do know that in many places it has very little vegetation, apart from date palms. After all much of Morocco is in the Sahara desert, so that gives us some indication that the plant lives in a hot environment that is relatively infertile.
Comments: The genus Caralluma has some of the worst smelling flowers among the Stapeliad type plants, but although some are quite pungent, I think the nasty smell they exude is over-rated. I personally have after many years acquired the knack of growing them reasonably well. Getting them to flower however is another matter, although this particular plant did flower last year.
A more in-depth look at individual succulent species, a new one is added each week.
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