Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, ETC.)

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant) on 10-11-19, #639-86.

Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower, Giant Stapelia, Carrion Flower, Giant Carrion Flower, Toad Plant

Stapelia gigantea

sta-PEL-ee-uh  jy-GAN-tee-uh


Synonyms of Stapelia gigantea (11) (Updated on 11-13-22 from Plants of the World Online): Ceropegia gigantea (N.E.Br.) Bruyns (2017), Gonostemon giganteus (N.E.Br.) P.V.Heath (1992), Gonostemon giganteus var. marlothii (N.E.Br.) P.V.Heath (1993), Gonostemon giganteus var. nobilis (N.E.Br.) P.V.Heath (1993), Gonostemon giganteus var. pallidus (E.Phillips) P.V.Heath (1993), Gonostemon giganteus var. youngii (N.E.Br.) P.V.Heath (1993), Stapelia cylista C.A.Lückh. (1933), Stapelia gigantea var. pallida E.Phillips (1925), Stapelia marlothii N.E.Br. (1908), Stapelia nobilis N.E.Br, Stapelia youngii N.E.Br. (1931).

Stapelia gigantea N.E.Br. is the accepted name for this species of Stapelia. It was named and described as such by Nicholas Edward Brown in Gardeners’ Chronicle in 1877.

The genus, Stapelia L., was described by Carl von Linnaeus in the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.

As of 11-13-22 when this page was last updated, Plants of the World Online lists 31 accepted species in the Stapelia genus. It is a member of the plant family Apocynaceae (Dogbane) with 369 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made on POWO.


Stapelia gigantea on 10-9-18, #518-1.

I bought five cuttings of Stapelia gigantea from a seller on Ebay from Lousiana. He sent seven and they arrived on October 9, 2018. He had them listed as Hairy Starfish. There are many common names in including Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower, Giant Stapelia, Giant Carrion Flower, and Toad Plant. Now and then I read about another common name I haven’t heard of before.

Stapelia gigantea is a succulent plant native to Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in Southeast Africa. They have been introduced to several other countries as well where they survive in similar conditions to their native land. Many species of Stapelia are popular as houseplants by succulent growers worldwide and their flowers come in a wide range of colors and sizes.

Stapelia gigantea on 10-10-18, #519-65.

I put all seven cuttings in the same pot on October 10. The next day I had to move all the potted plants inside for the winter so I put the Stapelia gigantea in my bedroom in a west-facing window.

Information says this plant needs a rest period in the winter at a temperature of 50-55° F with reduced watering.


Stapelia gigantea on 2-17-19, #548-6.

By February 17 the Stapelia gigantea appeared to be doing just fine. Never know what is going on under the soil, though…

Stapelia gigantea on 3-3-19, #549-4.

I noticed a new shoot growing from one of the cuttings on March 3. Progress!

There is quite a bit online about growing this plant and information from Plantz of Africa is very informative. Although Stapelia gigantea may resemble a cactus in some ways, it is a perennial succulent that is native to South Africa. They can be grown in full sun but should be in light to partial shade in hotter climates. In the wild, they are sheltered from the sun by shade provided by thickets and shrubs while their roots grow under rocks and slabs.

South African National Photo from Biodiversity Institute, South Africa, retrieved on 12-25-20.

They have velvety-green, spineless stems with four ribs. The stems have tubercles that are laterally flattened and vertically joined. Each tubercle has a small rudimentary leaf which is short-lived and leaves a scar at the tip of the tubercle. The stems are considered determinate as they only grow to around 8- 12” tall (20-30 cm). Plants can spread 2-3’ wide if given a chance in pots or in the ground. If grown in pots, they will branch out and hang over the sides.

Stapelia gigantea on 5-5-19, #566-74.

When temperatures warmed up enough I moved the potted plants back outside for the summer.

Stapelia gigantea on 5-15-19, #572-16.

One of the main reasons I bought this plant was for its flowers which are strangely magnificent. Flowering is triggered by decreasing day length in October. Information says at least two buds will emerge from the side of a stem toward the base and one will abort as the other flower opens. The yellow flowers with maroon streaks or striping (raised like wrinkles on leather) can grow to 12” in diameter. Flowers have a silky, leathery texture that feels like flesh. The outside edge of the flowers are hairy as well as the corolla segments. Flowers are pollinated by insects attracted to the foul scent of rotting flesh. Some people say they barely notice the smell unless they take a whiff while others say the smell is strong. Flowers give way to “milkweed-like” seeds.

Stapelia gigantea on 6-16-19, #591-41.

Stapelia gigantea appears to be easy to grow in well-draining potting soil. I used Miracle Grow Potting Soil with additional perlite and a little chicken grit (2-1-1 ratio). When re-pot I will use pumice instead of perlite and grit (about 50/50).

Stapelia gigantea on 7-15-19, #601-14.

Apparently, Stapelia is easy to propagate from seeds as well as cuttings. Young plants need ample moisture to get established. Once plants have become established, they only need regular watering during the growing period. Water thoroughly and allow the soil to dry between watering.

Stapelia gigantea on 10-11-19, #639-86.

It seemed like the stems around the edge of the pot were branching out while the ones inside didn’t.

Some information suggests growing the Stapelia in full sun, but others say to avoid full sun during the heat of the summer so it is probably best to grow in part sun to light shade. Mine did very well on a covered front porch where it received a short period of direct sun in the afternoon. The stems of some species may turn a reddish color in more sun.

Stapelia gigantea on 10-11-19, #639-87.

I had to move the potted plants inside for the winter on October 11 because an “F” was in the forecast. I always take photos of the plants when I move them inside for the winter and measure the cactus and some of the succulents. On October 11, the tallest stem of the Stapelia gigantea was 9 1/2″ tall and the cluster measured 14″ wide. I was excited to see a few buds…

Stapelia gigantea on 10-11-19, #639-88.

I moved the Stapelia gigantea to my bedroom as before but I think I should it in the cooler bedroom for a rest period. During the winter months, they should have a cool dry rest period in a temperature of no less than 50° F (10° C). Prolonged periods below 50° is hazardous to the plant. 

Unfortunately, the buds fell off after I moved it inside. GEEZ! I also noticed a few mealybugs on a few stems but that problem was quickly remedied.


Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant) on 10-15-20, #747-98.

I had to bring the potted plants inside for the winter on October 15 because an “F” was in the forecast. As always, I take photos and measurements as I move them inside. I measure the cactus and part of the succulents but I didn’t measure this plant. It is filling up the pot and needs a bigger one VERY soon. I didn’t have this plant in full sun over the summer but I think it received plenty of light. Perhaps I need to put it in a different location in 2021.

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant) bud on 10-15-20, #747-99.

One single bud appeared I think early in September, but by the time I moved the plats inside it looked like it was drying up. Hmmmm… I cut off one of the stems that was hanging over the side when I moved the plants outside and gave it to Mrs. Wagler of Wagler’s Greenhouse. We trade a lot of plants.


Stapelia gigantea on 9-22-21, #833-3.

I put the Stapelia gigantea on the back deck in the spring of 2021 where it received morning sun and light shade the rest of the day. The back deck is in full sun except for 4′ or so that has a roof. The goal is to sneak it inside when an “F” is in the forecast in October and put it on a table just inside the sliding door. That way it will be in about the same light as it is outside and maybe the buds won’t fall off.

Stapelia gigantea on 9-22-21, #833-4.

The Stapelia gigantea is one of the only species I have bought specifically for its flowers. Even so, its stems are pretty neat.

Stapelia gigantea buds on 9-22-21, #833-5.

When I took these photos on 9-22-21 I noticed a few buds. Keep your fingers crossed!

Stapelia gigantea buds on 10-4-21, #840-6.

I noticed the buds on the Stapelia gigantea were getting bigger on October 4…

Stapelia gigantea bud at 1 3/4″ long on 10-4-21, #840-7.

The biggest bud is 1 3/4″ long… No “F” in the forecast, so maybe it will continue growing and open before the plants have to come inside for the winter. 🙂

Stapelia gigantea buds on 10-11-12, #842-1.

The two biggest buds on 10-11-21.

Stapelia gigantea bud at 4 3/4″ long on 10-11-21, #842-2.

The largest is now 4 3/4″ long.


Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-22-21, #849-22.

After it was dark on Friday evening, I turned the light on the back porch to check on the bud and measure it again. The last time I measured it a few days earlier it was 5 3/4″ long. Lo and behold, one of the petals had opened and another one had started.

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-22-21, #849-23.

I checked on it several times during the night and there was no change.


Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-23-21, #850-7.

Now, that is pretty exciting! Finally, after several years of buds falling off after I moved it in the house, it has bloomed!

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) at 13″ wide on 10-23-21, #850-8.

It measured 13″ wide…

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-23-21, #850-9.

You can read about these plants and watch videos, but seeing it in person is so much better. Those red lines are raised and they kind of remind me of ripples in a pond.

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-23-21, #850-10.

It is definitely hairy…

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-23-21, #850-11.

How neat is that?

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-23-21, #850-12.

SO, what does it smell like? When I first took a whiff I smelled nothing.

Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, Starfish Flower) on 10-23-21, #850-13..

Then at 4:30, I went to check again. I opened the sliding door and I could smell a faint odor. Naturally, I stuck my nose right in the flower, and HOLY CRAP! It truly does smell like rotting flesh. Honestly, I won’t be doing that again. I have smelled so bad stuff in my life, but that is one I definitely won’t forget. GEEZ!!! Hopefully, the Turkey Buzzards won’t come to my back porch. 🙂

Seriously, it made me remember everything bad I have ever smelled and they now seem pale in comparison. I am VERY thankful the temperatures have been mild enough so I didn’t have to bring it into the house! GEEZ! 🙂

Family: Apocynaceae (Dogbane)
Origin: South Africa
Zones: USDA Zones 9a-11 (20-40° F/-6.6 to 4.5° C)
Size: 8-12” tall x 24” wide…
*Light: Light to part shade.
**Soil: Very well-draining
***Water: Average to dry

*LIGHT: Likes bright light, but should be grown in light to part shade in hotter climates. 

**SOIL: Needs a very well-draining potting soil. When I re-pot I will use Miracle Grow Potting soil with 50%  1/4” pumice.

***WATER: Stapelia gigantea is a drought-tolerant succulent. In the wild, various species of Stapelia grow in either winter or summer rainfall areas. They are dormant during opposite times of the year. Stapelia gigantea is apparently a summer growing/winter dormant species so they need regular watering during the summer months, allowing their soil to dry between watering. They need a winter rest period, after flowering is completed, and should be in a cooler room with minimal watering. Only water if their stems start to shrivel. As long as they are upright, I wouldn’t water… 

FLOWERING: Hmmm… This has been the tricky part for me. Flowering is triggered by decreasing day length in October however, that is also when I have to bring the potted plants inside for the winter. SO, as a result, when I have buds and move the plants inside, they abort… Apparently, I will need to bring the Stapelia gigantea inside before they bud so maybe they will flower. The moral of that story is not to move it when they start to flower… 

OVER WINTER: They need a winter rest period in a cool room but not in temperatures below 50° F. 


Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant) on 10-4-22, #914-1.

The Stapelia gigantea caught me by surprise and bloomed earlier in 2022. In fact, I missed its’ first flower…

I also have a Huernia schneideriana which you can read about by clicking on the name.

I am definitely not an expert and I am still learning. The Stapelia gigantea has done very but I hope to have flowers at some point. Then I will know I have successfully grown the Stapelia gigantea

I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant. If you see I have made an error, please leave a comment or email me at


4 comments on “Stapelia gigantea (Zulu Giant, ETC.)

  1. AnWe says:

    I have one of these plants as well and have not been able to get it to flower. I live in NY and feel it might be too cool for most of year. I leave it out side between mid May through mid October. It has been repotted 3 times now and appears to be very healthy. Thank you for the info on your plant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Andrea! I am happy to hear you have one of these plants. They are pretty neat even without flowers. How old is yours and what kind of light do you have it in? It seems mine bloomed a month earlier this year and kind of caught me off guard. As the page says, when it was on the front porch it would just have a few buds that would fall off when I bought it inside for the winter (twice). When I put it on the back porch where it gets morning sun, it bloomed. Two years in a row now. I haven’t repotted mine for at least two years because I have been busy doing this and that. I’m sure it needs it. Take care and thanks for the comment!


      • AnWe. says:

        My plant is about 5 years old and was a cutting my a family members plant that was probably 10+ years old. I have had the little sprouts come out a few times, but did not realize these were flower buds!! So maybe I have been closer than I thought!! Thanks for the info!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmmm… That’s what mine did at first! Then, since they have been where they get more light (especially until around noon on the east side), it has bloomed. It is at the edge of the porch (under a roof), so not in full sun. The leaves that get more sun can turn a reddish color. It doesn’t get much water, mostly from rain.


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