Happy Friday the Thirteenth!
When my wise old grandmother adopted me in December 1965, I found that I was moving in with a Master Gardener eight years before there was such a thing as a Master Gardener.
In September 1968, when I came home from my eighth grade plant biology class with Mrs. Bajza, I asked my wise old grandmother if I could have a small area in her yard to create my own little garden.
Earlier that year, my granddad, two uncles, and I had installed central heating and air conditioning in our South Texas home. Such a system comes with a cooling condenser which sits outside and blows hot air around at hurricane force. The wind and heat kills anything near it. So, of course, the area around the cooling condenser is what my wise old grandmother gave me. I was so sad but I didn’t let her see my sadness.
While I was over at a friend’s house—Richard Schmidt—his parents heard me talking about my useless garden. They offered to take me 70 miles down to the Rio Grande Valley and show me just how useless my garden was not. They introduced me to cactus and succulents, and I bought many on that trip.
I created a rock wall around the cooling condenser to force the hot wind upwards and protect the rest of the little area. Then I created little dry stream beds and a cactus/succulent rock garden. The area I was working with was on the south side of the house, so it got a lot of South Texas sunshine and heat to begin with.
Well, the cactus and succulents absolutely loved it there, and one day they all decided to reward me simultaneously with a magnificent display of flowers. I was so excited that I went running in yelling and screaming for my wise old grandmother to come look. She was impressed, and happy, which made me happy, too.
One of the succulents that I had planted was a Stapelia. They look kind of awkward, like me, so I could identify with them. When it bloomed, it was the most magnificent flower I had ever seen, similar to this one from Wikipedia:
I now know that what I had was a Stapelia gigantea, the largest flower of the Stapelia species. Sadly, I never took a cutting from that plant when I left home for college at Texas A&M University. And I had never seen another Stapelia gigantea…..
I was wandering around a newly discovered nursery out here in the boondocks, Wally’s World Nursery. Wally’s had five of them, one blooming and two fixin’ to bloom. I brought one home with me:
Stapelia gigantea is known as the “carrion plant” because its flowers smell like rotting flesh, important to the plant since it needs common flies to pollinate it. Have no fear if you want one of these, though, because you kind of have to rub the flower all over your nose in order to smell it. Flies, on the other hand, can smell rotting flesh from half way around the world….
The flowers get up to ten inches in diameter and are fringed with hairs that can be up to three-tenths of an inch long. The flowers of all Stapelia species are star shaped, some having more than one star in them, and many of them are fringed with little hairs.
I have had other Stapelia species over the years but never Stapelia gigantea. I have had the Stapelia grandiflora, which has the second-largest flower (see second picture below), but I have always wanted another Stapelia gigantea. Now I have one.
Here are some pictures of Stapelia flowers from my gardens over the years: