I told the story in my other blog, The Bright Lights of Muleshoe-(“Cactus and Kerrville,” October 5, 2011) of driving home from the Austin area with the distinct smell of rotting flesh lurking around me. Turned out the smell was coming from the orbea lutea, a succulent in the stapeliad family, which I had just bought, whose blooms decided to open during my trip home. Commonly known as the carrion flower, these flowers do smell like, well, dead animals. On a later trip to Austin and Spicewood and Bee Cave, where I buy most of my cactus, I bought another one, a stapelia grandiflora, which I saw blooming at The Living Desert in Spicewood, which used to be in Bee Cave (more about The Living Desert coming up in the next blog). Mine finally bloomed this year and pretty much outdid itself. I think I counted at least six buds and four of them have bloomed so far. The original stinky flower, the orbea lutea, I am sad to say, has not done as well and has not bloomed again since I brought it home.
So why would anyone want a flower that smells bad? And draws flies! My husband asked the same question. Well, if I call myself a cactus collector, then I need one to complete my collection. The plant is nothing spectacular, but the flowers are large, pretty, and distinctive, to say the least! If you bother to get up close enough to them, you can see the fine filament-like hairs covering the petals. The buds-you can see a large one a small one resting against the flower on the left, are interesting in themselves. So, yes, they make a nice addition to the collection.
I have enjoyed this stapelia lepida for several years, and this year it, too, has outdone itself with buds and blooms. Here you can see three blooms and four other tight little five-sided buds waiting to open.
Huernias are also related to the stapeliad family, and this one, huernia thuretii, is blooming now also. These flowers are much smaller but still have interesting designs and the faint scent of carrion, if you stick your nose right up to it.
If you will search the Internet for stapelia, huernia, or orbea and click on Images, you will be amazed at the flowers coming from these plants. The more exotic, colorful ones seem to be hard to find, but I will keep looking for yet another stinky flower to add to these.