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Current Photo: CS1202
Available Photos: CS1202 CS1564 (click to change photo)
Photographer's Comments: 35mm slide
Authority: (Marloth) Bruyns 2001
Date Added: 2004-03-26
Entered By: Paul J. Brunelle
Stapelia albocastanea Marloth 1913,
Caralluma albocastanea (Marloth) L.C.Leach 1970,
Orbeopsis albocastanea (Marloth) L.C.Leach 1978,
Stapelia caroli-schmidtii Dinter & A.Berger 1914.
"Carrion Flowers" or "Starfish Flowers" are natives of South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and East India. Among the most highly evolved of plants, their flower structures are among the most complicated, adapted for pollination by flies in a highly specific way. Many of these "tropical milkweeds" form flowers which resemble, feel like, or smell like dead animals, to beguile the gravid, pollinating blowflies into visiting them to lay their eggs. In the process of positioning itself to lay its eggs, a fly manages inadvertently to transfer the Pollinium, a linked pair of pollen masses it has probably carried from another flower, to one of the specialized stigmatic surfaces in the visited flower’s inner corona. Meanwhile the fly picks up another pollinium to continue the process in another flower elsewhere. It’s another of nature’s little sexual beguilement tricks!
Orbea albocastanea, "Chestnut Starfish Flower", is a shy bloomer, for me, but when it does, it’s quite charming, producing its flowers one at a time, up to 6 or 7 in succession. A native of Namibia in southwest Africa, the plant forms a group of 6 or 8 slim, 4-angled, ascending stems in an "organ-pipe" type of clump. In habitat, the stems are more decumbent and, where they touch the ground, they root and continue its growth into clumps. Somehow, it always seems attractively ‘alert’, and its smallish flowers, ca 4cm (1.5") in diameter, are seldom overlooked.
In my greenhouse it seldom gave off much odour, but its attractiveness to blowflies seemed to be confined to mid- to late summer, so I presume that its message, however expressed, was delivered then. I never noticed any scent, even at that time when the flies deposited their eggs around the central column of each flower. The maggots hatched, milled around somewhat, and died in a day or two.
Despite its association with the aura of putrescence, It is still a very desirable species.