How to Grow and Care for Stapeliads

How to Grow and Care for Stapeliads

The genera of plants within the tribe Stapeliae are all to varying degrees stem succulents. Many of the species resemble cacti, though they are not closely related, as an example of convergent evolution. The stems are often angular, mostly four-angled in cross-section, but in some species, there are six or more, with some species of Hoodia having more than thirty angles. In size, they vary from less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length to over 6 inches (15 cm) tall. The leaves are in most species reduced to rudiments, sometimes hardened and thorn-like, arranged on bumps or tubercles on the angles. Some species, however, still have recognizable leaves, most notably the Indian species Frerea indica, and some members of Tridentea.

Stapeliads are most abundant in warm, dry climates. In Africa, there are two separate regions where Stapeliads have the most diversified: northeast Africa, and Southern Africa. Several species are endemic to the small island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa. The Arabian Peninsula, and most specifically the country of Yemen, contain another concentration of species. Several more are found in the drier parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Myanmar. A single species, Caralluma europea is found in Europe, in the very southern part of the Iberian peninsula.

Most Stapeliads use flies as pollinators that are attracted to odors resembling dung or rotting meat, emanating from the flowers. Many of the flowers also bear some physical resemblance to rotting animal carcasses, leading to their popular name of Carrion Flowers. However, not all Stapeliads smell bad or attract flies. Some species use beetles, bees, wasps, butterflies or moths as pollinators. Stapeliad flowers range in size from mere millimeters in species of Echidnopsis and Pseudolithos to those of Stapelia gigantea that can reach 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter, and are some the largest of flowers to be found on any species of succulent.

List of Genera

Baynesia, Caralluma, Desmidorchis, Duvalia, Echidnopsis, Edithcolea, Frerea, Hoodia, Huernia, Huerniopsis, Larryleachia, Notechidnopsis, Orbea, Piaranthus, Pectinaria, Pseudolithos, Quaqua, Rhytidocaulon, Stapelia, Stapelianthus, Stapeliopsis, Tavaresia, Tridentea, Tromotriche, Whitesloanea.

Growing Conditions

Light: All Stapeliads enjoy dry heat and sunlight, if not too bright and intense.
Temperature: Stapeliads do not like winter cold and should remain fairly dry and warm during its winter resting period.
Water: In the growing season, water in moderation when needed, making sure soil is fairly dried out between waterings. Do not water between November 1 and March 1.
Soil: They all need extra good drainage. Stapeliads are shallow-rooted, and a collection of them can be planted up nicely in a wide, shallow bowl. When planting, it is a good idea to allow the roots to be buried in soil and then put pure gravel or sand around the base of the plant to prevent rot.
Fertilizer: Fertilize lightly, if at all, to prevent overly lush and weak stems.


The easiest and best way to propagate Stapeliads is from stem cuttings, which can be taken virtually throughout the year. Propagation by seed is also used for these succulents.

Grower's Tips

Stapeliads are relatively easy to grow. They should be treated as an outdoor plant as they will easily rot indoors and cannot flower without exposure to outdoor temperature fluctuations. They should be grown under cover so that watering can be controlled. They require a reasonable amount of sunlight to promote flowering and maintain a well-shaped plant. Very shady positions will produce very poor flowering. Stapeliads come from climates where they survive extremely high temperatures in the summer months, so most growth is in spring and autumn, with flowering in autumn when the weather starts to cool down.


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Cactus and Succulents forum→Hydroponic (?) stapeliads

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However, I've been rooting cuttings I've gotten in a tupperware full of perlite that I add water to the sides of every 3-4 days when it's dry. I keep it on a heat pad and have noticed that a lot of them have grown roots quickly, and even new arms branching off the main cutting. A rhytidocaulon that I left to callous over after it rotted seems to have grown a flower bud after sitting in this perlite/heat pad setup.

I've been wondering if this might work for a larger plant, so I took one that I had a double of (an Orbea semota var lutea) and put it in a plastic cup of perlite with water added to see if it might do better than the pot with soil. I'm keeping it on a heat pad, near my grow lights but not directly under them. It's been this way for about 5 days now, and hasn't shown any bad signs yet, but does have a little bit of new growth I think.

Below are some pictures of my cuttings box and then the Orbea cup. The closeup picture of the small cutting if a piece of Orbea Paradoxa that I had a small plant of, but was attacked by mealies and withered away. I decided to take this one arm off and stick it in my cutting box after cleaning it. The tip that was shriveled seems to have dried out, and an entire new arm has grow on of the side of it.

The few that are in my soil/perlite pots that HAVE grown flower buds, always abort the flowers or they dry up, even with a little misting or water added when buds form. I don't know if it's too warm in my sunroom where the rest of my plants are, and that's causing their individual pots to dry out too quickly, or if these just prefer a constant heating pad and damp perlite conditions like in the box itself.

I'll try to keep this updated with pictures of the Orbea I'm experimenting with in it's own cup. Has anyone tried this type of system out for stapelias before? Not even sure if it's "hydroponic" growing. but so far these seem to respond well to it-

(sorry these aren't the prettiest photos. )

That is an interesting experiment but I'm not sure what you are going to learn. You need to test one variable at a time and keep a control group. You won't know if its the straight perlite, the extra water (or less water - it is perlite) or bottom heat that worked out for you.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada

Hopefully it works on some of the larger plants

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada

Has anyone else tried growing these this way, or hydroponically?

I'll keep watching them to see if they continue to grow. They're growing long arms out of the sides of them (the circular one in the corner in the second picture was just that small round piece when I put it in, now has the arms coming off)

These aren't the most exciting photos, so I'll add some photos of things that have flowered for me over the last few months of growing these for everyone to see-

I only have one stapelia. It went flower crazy this year. Usually get only a few flowers at a time a couple times a year. This past September she had 30+ buds on her. . They have been opening 2-4 flowers at a time ever since and I still see new buds forming.

I tried to load a photo but it comes up garbage code. So lets try this.

I'm hoping that she will set seeds. Flies love her. They keep dancing on the flowers spreading pollen.

How do you grow your stapelia? I see your in California so I'm assuming outside which I hear they love, if the weather is right.

I've tried everything from pure pumice, pure perlite, mostly dirt, compost, cactus mix, and a mix between all of those hah. So far my Rhytidocaulon (the gray/brown stems with tiny starfish) seem to be the happiest in the tiniest pot possible and a mix of 60% perlite and 40% forest compost. All of my other ones are a mix bag, but I am growing indoors only so it is a constant battle of testing new conditions for them.

This current test of heated perlite with water will be interesting. I've read they like to be pot bound before growing a lot, so this test might not lead to much if there's a bunch in the same pot/tupperware.

But I've read so many conflicting theories for these plants that at this point I figured I might as well try some new ways of growing.

Anyways, thanks for sharing your photos. I'm hoping my larger one flowers some day. Those massive hairy flowers are really something special. How big are the flowers on it?

Here is my new larger one. if anyone can tell what type it might be (grandiflora. gigantea?) let me know. Just excited to have found one in person and not online, like all of my small ones.

Cactus and Succulents forum→Hydroponic (?) stapeliads

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Your website gave me a lot of ideas and lead me to reading as much as I could about hydroponics and semi-hydro growing.

Do you grow succulents this way too, or mostly cacti? I want to try it with some of my cacti too but want to see if this test on my duplicate stapelias works out first. I can't tell if the few cacti I do have would like the semi-hydro setup in perlite, water at the bottom, and heat pad/grow lights.

Once it's summer and warm enough to place some of these outside I'm going to try drainage holes with pure pumice or perlite.

I'm using the same liquid nutrients in water formula though and hopefully that's enough for them to grow well.
Do you use fertilizer every time you water them? I've been trying to remember to only use it every three waterings or so.

Here is an image of my setup (most of my plants are pretty tiny. I might try this with a larger cacti if these work out)

A couple of friends of mine decided at some point to go soil-less for most of their succulents, and ended up with a particular kind of clay balls which hold and wick water from a bottom reservoir. That kind of "semi-hydroponic" system works really well for a surprising number of succulents, for years and years.

I tried it and had poor results. I probably was not watering enough. We are in a very dry climate (a quarter of your annual rainfall) and that is probably why I ended up incorporating coir in my soil, to lengthen the interval between watering. Anyway, I think a lot of air in the substrate is really important for many succulents. And aggregate of whatever kind (the right grade, more coarse than fine) can usually serve perfectly well on its own if you are careful to provide a steady trickle of nutrients.

After I saw our native giant cardón growing in the wild, I realized they colonize pure rock in habitat. They do battle with the boulders and win.

It's a way of life, and no doubt it works fine in cultivation. We have a variety of lithophytic natives. I would imagine all the plants pictured below would be fine in pure aggregate. We have no native stapeliads, though.

I am trying to create something similar to that reservoir method with these cups of damp perlite with water at the bottom. The tops of the perlite seems to stay dry especially under my grow lights, and the bottom always warm so no matter how much water there is, the plants seem ok and grow new roots. This is all really early in my test though, so we'll see. I was really surprised when I got a soil thermometer and saw that the damp perlite in my cuttings box they all root so well in is 100 degrees and sometimes more on the heat mat. To me that seems way too high but these succulents seem to like it.

Hopefully it leads to good results with these fuller plants I'm now testing in the setup.

Interestingly, they both plumped up quite a bit once they were in the damp perlite for a while. I always thought these naturally looked more thin/wrinkly, but it seems like they want to be fatter with more water. I have about 8 other Rhytido in soil pots, and about half have flowered over the last months but they all are thin/wrinkled compared to these. I'm curious to see if the other fuller stapelia plants I'm testing in this setup will plump up. They were all pretty wrinkly in their soil pots.

I read somewhere that succulents don't mind water/hydroponic style growing, but that they have to create new "water roots" to handle it compared to their "soil roots". Has anyone ever heard of that or can confirm?

I can't tell the difference between roots that are growing this way vs. healthy soil roots, but I am new to this all and my soil roots always end up dried out looking and/or rotted dark brown.

Anyways, into their own solo cups of perlite these go and onto the heat mat with lights above it. I'll see how they do-

I now only grow some Euphobias' in addition to Terrestrial Brazilian cacti of northeastern Brazil, Brendan. I only grow fifty or so plants semi-hydroponically as I outline on that web page. The remainder of plants I grow in accordance with the methodology I outline on my web page at - still kind of semi-hydroponic cultivation.

I do pretty much the same thing - I actually pre-flush using pH adjusted plain water to prevent salt build up.

Very good Branden - keep on experimenting!

The roots formed in water always seem to be longer and more brittle, so there's potential for a lot more breakage when they are transferred to soil.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada

I've been using a water-filter for all my watering. sort of expensive one I got online, but I learned my tap water was really bad so I got the filters for my plants. I'm interested in the top layer of gravel you use to help lessen evaporation that I read about on your site. Does it seem to work for you? I found very small and round aquarium gravel that I'm starting to use in these semi-hydro cups for top dressing. I'm hoping it supports the plants better than all the perlite in their cups, but also prevents dust from getting everywhere from the perlite. If it slows evaporation that is a plus too. Since these tiny succulents are on a heat pad, the water reservoir at the bottom of their cups evaporates within 2 days or so. I have to experiment with adding more water at each watering, but for now I don't want to drown the roots, so I water only until 1/3 of the bottom cup of perlite is filled with water.

You said you use this method on your Euphorbias? I have 2 Euphorbia Poissoniis that I wanted to try this on. One that hasn't woken out of it's dormant stage that it went into right after I received it in the mail. I'm hoping it's not dead but isn't soft when I squeeze the trunk of it. The other poissonii has been growing like mad under my lights but I have to water him a lot, I'm thinking of putting him in a slightly bigger container with just perlite and water reservoir but don't want to damage him either since he's one of my favorite plants.

Happy to learn of others experimenting like you It's been interesting learning what I have so far about how plants grow and what they need even if it seems opposite of what you generally here about succulent/cacti growing conditions for indoor plants.

Daisy: just saw your post. Interesting about the roots, that seems to make sense to me. I am curious what these roots end up looking like in this semi-hydro setup.

Another question for anyone with ideas: Does using soil up the chance for bacterial/fungal infection? I haven't really grown anything in pure perlite or pumice before besides the Larryleachia I posted earlier, oh and also my Cubiformis. When I unpotted them from their pumice to try in this semi hydro perlite setup, their roots were nice and healthy with a little dehydration on the Cubiformis. The roots of all my other plants I've been switching over, which were in soil/perlite mixture, were awful and either mushy, or dehydrated and beyond thin. I'm wondering if it was the soil itself or what that caused a lot of muck (rot?) on the roots.

As I was potting them, I ran out of soil mix nearby and the last two were put in JUST pumice and sand because I was lazy.

I left them under a table on my back porch all summer. They got a lot of rain, and the ones in the pumice and sand were the only ones that survived.

It was an unplanned purchase and a pretty haphazard potting up. It's not technically hydroponic, but it does show that they don't need soil. My climate is so wet that I think that's probably the reason these were the ones that survived.

Jai, beautiful pic, looks like maybe a Huernia or Caralluma type but I am not sure since they all start looking so similar after a while especially the ones with the soft thorns.

Great to hear it survived the rainfall and summer in pure grit. I don't know why these just don't seem to do well for me ever in soil. They really do seem to prefer more water to less for me since I started collecting in May. But they also want it hot which I can do with heat pads indoors, but is hard to achieve without heating them up in some way when you don't live in the right temp zone. When they were in soil, I was heating the room to a steady 85 degrees or so with lots of fans and air movement to help them dry after waterings and stay warm (so I thought). Turns out the soil mix on most of them when I unpot is much colder than the air in the room no matter how hot it gets. I also think the hot air was preventing a lot of the flower buds from fully forming. I was getting a lot of dried buds falling off and sunburned skin on the stapelias.

Hopefully this heat from the bottom and cooler room temp will better suit them in the pure perlite mix. Keep me updated on how yours does too. I think there's still a lot to learn about these types of plants since there is so much conflicting info on what environments work best for growing them at home

Thanks, Brendan. I always include the following caveat on my web pages ……… "The information I present here reflects my approach. Individuals should follow their own paths in cultivating plants based on their growing environment, their climate, and the type of containers they use."
I think that is very important, for what works for me in growing healthy and robust plants may not work well at all for people who live in other places.

Very interesting - I am curious to see how that works, Branden. Are you able to go online and check your city tap water data? Tucson water posts daily analyses for all their wells - the pH for my tap water averages 8.2 which, as you know, is quite alkaline. I adjust that to approx. 6.0 when watering my plants. Again, that works very well for me - others may use different values.

Yes it does, Brendan. Growing C&S in green houses or 50% shade cloth houses year round here in Tucson is a lot different than growing them under just 30% shade cloth in summer and in full sun from October through May as I do (in order to have robust stem growth, profuse spination, bountiful flowers and fruit). Without gravel top dressing, my soil mix dries overnight after watering during our blistering summer months with 105-110F days under blazing sun and cloudless skies - I would have to water my plants every day (as I found out - to prevent dehydration) without gravel top dressing which holds the moisture in the substrate so that it dries out in about three days at that time of year. Presently I am watering my cacti that are growing in full sun at my home once per week. I think your aquarium gravel should work well for you.

Yes, E. balsamifera, E. petricola.

The information posted by Baja relating to rooting Euphorbia cuttings is spot on.

Brendan, I'm curious to see pictures of your Euphorbias, and it would be great to see the roots if you don't mind snapping a picture when you repot them. Here are a couple of mine, mother and daughter, still pretty leafy but not putting out much more stem growth for the season, so you can get a sense of the practical proportions of plant size to pot size.

Interesting about the ph in the water. I forget what mine is but I got a tester a couple of months ago after getting the filter to check my water and whatever the reading was whenever I tested the tap, was very high. The filter seems to help lower it so I'm hoping it's better for the plants.

Those are beautiful euphorbias James. I especially love the second one and eventually want to collect more euphorbia types. I love how they all have such interesting/sculptural characteristics to their forms and patterns. Maybe next spring I'll start collecting some more once I feel more confident in my plant growing abilities.

Baja, those are awesome poissonii's! I hope mine grow to be so tall one day. Here are some pictures of mine, they're a little hard to see but there are pics from when I got them and then now at the end.

The shorter of the two, with the leaves, has grown about twice as tall as when I got it (on each arm). For whatever reason the right arm is slower growing. I growed it in the window most of the summer and watered it once a week with a deep water. It's in a pure grit mix of gravel rocks/pumice and maybe some perlite.

It seemed to continue doing well under my grow lights once fall started setting in with cloudy weather. I haven't watered it in almost two weeks now though so I think it's leaves are yellowing/drying out. I was worried about the cooler temperatures in my house without the heat from sunny days coming through the window. This leafy one is the one I was thinking of repotting into a semi-hydro system with no drainage holes and damp perlite like my new test. I feel like if it's on the heat pad, it will do well with the airy mix and warm water, but I don't know for sure. Whenever it was hot throughout summer and early fall, it seemed to love whatever water I could give it (with fertilizer since in pure grit)

The taller poissonii is from OutOfAfrica and came to me with some droopy yellow leaves that slowly fell off. They told me to keep it in it's pot so I did, and I haven't watered much since the leaves fell off. Once in a while a half a cup or so. It's firm but shows no growth at the top since I got it in July ( Hopefully it's not secretly dead

Compared to the leafless/dormant state, I like to water those Euphorbias more when they are in leaf, and even more when they are actively generating new leaves and stem. The actual frequency difference might only be 2-fold, but our climate has neither heat nor cold, so evaporation proceeds at a fairly consistent clip year round. I am careful to water to completion once a week, and these plants are heavy drinkers when they're in growth. With more rock in the mix, you can water more freely during the growth season (which is ongoing for one plant, based on the picture). I would think a good winter/dormancy schedule given mild temps might be a deep watering every 2 weeks unless the plants are getting hours a day of direct sun, or the indoor environment is particularly warm and dry.

The taller plant will not be putting out more new stem this year. The mix they use at OOA has excellent drainage, and that should keep you on the safe side. If you look at the taller plant in my picture, you can see how much stem is generated each season by looking at the constrictions in between periods of growth. It's not a whole lot in good strong light.

Finally, just as a point of random interest, there's a group of Euphorbias with a growth habit like poissonii (the others are unispina, darbandensis, sapinii, and venenifica) and they are quite likely to be confused in cultivation. You can trust the OOA people to have their tags right but maybe exercise a bit of skepticism about plants from other sources. From what I've seen unispina and venenifica (which are less common in cultivation) tend to have veinier leaves, but the whole group is pretty variable, and I honestly would not be able to tell you what specifically makes one species different from the next, except maybe their point of geographical origin.

I did leave a comment for that plant in the database (see below the general plant info) if that is of any use to you.

Do you think that I should repot the small super leafy one in this semi-hydroponic setup? Or does it absolutely need a dormant period with no water at all?

I got the smaller growing one from Miles2Go where I also got a few of my stapelias. Some of my other stapelias are from Arid Lands. Interestingly enough when I recently asked both bob and miles about stapelias absolutely needing a winter dormant period, they both said they don't need them and I can grow them year round as long as they get light and warm temps. I asked because a lot show new growth like the poissonii and I was worried to stop watering them.

I wonder if this might be the same for euphorbias and whether I can keep the poissonii in this new system under my lights on the heat pad in wet perlite. Might give it a try but I do like it and don't want to risk killing it.

E. poissonii does not need a dormant period with no water. I water my plants year round. Admittedly they are experiencing mild temps and hours of daily sun year round too, but I would think that withholding water will not work to your advantage unless cold or darkness is an issue. Watering during dormancy is more a matter of reducing the frequency, at least that's how I handle it.

None of my succulents need a winter dormant period with no water at all. The ones that do go dormant (like some caudiciforms) tend to lose their leaves and thus signal dormancy loud and clear, and I reduce the watering frequency but still water deeply during winter. None of the stapeliads I have grown even slow down in the winter. Of course given cold temps and dark situations your mileage will differ. We get most of our rainfall during winter and I leave all my succulents out in the rain unless (a) they are dormant and (b) the rain is coming too soon after I last watered, in which case I tuck them under an overhang so they stay dry.

Miles should have his tags right, too.

This morning I unpotted a Stapelia I got maybe a month or two ago and noticed it had a large white root(?) coming out of it's base. It has the most roots of any of my stapelias I've unpotted so far and they're pretty long so I repotted it in the perlite water mix, but in a much taller container than the solo cups I'm using for the others. I'm curious if it will do better with height to reach it's roots down toward the water st the bottom. The grower on another board who grows her succulents this way says to use tall pots so the roots grow down toward the water and don't sit in it. Figured I'd try with this one.

Any ideas what the white growth might be? A giant root? There seem to be one or two normal sized roots coming out of it. I've never had a Stapelia with a growth like this so I'm curious to see how it does.

Since moving some of the plants to this semi-hydro system I've raised the lights so that they're anywhere from 18-25 inches above plant tips depending on plant height. Some taller plants are a little closer but I'm watching their coloration. Before they were probably more 12-15 inches above the plants.

Hopefully it's far enough from any to lead to plant damage. Not sure if this flavopurpurea's stem will recover but if anyone has grow light tips for stapelias, that'd be great-

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