Singapore Government Logo

A Singapore Government Agency Website

Stapelia gigantea


Stapelia gigantea N. E. Br.

Family Name: Apocynaceae
Synonyms: Stapelia tarantuloides, Stapelia cyclista, Stapelia youngii, Stapelia meintjesii, Stapelia marlothii, Stapelia gigantea var. pallida
Common Name: Carrion Flower, Giant Toad Flower, Starfish Flower, Zulu Giant, Dead Horse Plant


Family Name
Genus Epithet
Species Epithet
Name Authority
Name Status (botanical)
Common Names

Classifications and Characteristics

Plant Division Angiosperms (Flowering Seed Plants) (Dicotyledon)
Plant Growth Form Succulent Plant
Lifespan (in Singapore) Perennial
Mode of Nutrition Autotrophic
Plant Shape Shrubby
Maximum Height 0.2 m to 0.3 m
Maximum Plant Spread / Crown Width 1 m


Native Distribution South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland
Preferred Climate Zone Mediterranean

Description and Ethnobotany

Growth Form Cactus-like succulent shrub with shallow root systen, up to 0.3m tall and 1m wide under ideal conditions.
Foliage Reduced to very small (0.5mm), dry papery remnants at tips of stem tubercles, no longer photosynthetic.
Stems Finger-like, fleshy, 4-sided, spineless but ridged with 'teeth' (tubercles), texture somewhat velvety. Bruised surfaces exude milky white sap. Stems serve as water storage and photosynthetic tissue for plant, green when plant is supplied with sufficient water, turn reddish or brown during drought-stress. Stems start branching near base of plant to form clumps, rooting whenever they touch the ground.
Flowers This species produces the largest flowers of all existing succulents in the world. Flower buds big and inflated. Individual open flowers 20-40cm across, star-shaped, very showy, cream-coloured with crimson to brownish transverse lines and deep red central disk. Texture leathery, edged with profuse hairs along margins. Scented like rotten animal carcass, attract pollinator carrion-flies and bluebottles, which are sometimes fooled into laying eggs amongst the hairs of the flower.
Fruits Explosive seedpods (follicles), produced in pairs and united at base, resembling goat's horns, containing small flat, tufted seeds that are dispersed by wind.
Others - Plant Morphology Note: Previously placed in Asclepiadaceae family. Latest accepted family name is Apocynaceae.
Habitat Dry forests and open bushland or savannah areas, establishing under light shade of trees or on flat ground with broken grass cover.
Cultivation Takes full sun to light shade. Prefers well-drained, loose loamy to sandy-rocky soils. Water plant only when soil is thoroughly dry. Stems tend to rot in waterlogged and moist conditions, can be saved if rotten parts are cut off, and healthy sections allowed to callus for 2-3 weeks before planting. Propagate by seeds or stem cuttings (let callus form before planting in well-drained media).
Etymology Genus epithet 'Staphelia' named by father of modern taxonomy Linnaeus in honour of Dutch botanist and physician Johannes Bodaeus van Stapel (1602-1636), who discovered a related species in South Africa. Species epithet 'gigantea' means 'gigantic', a reference to the large flowers of the plant.

Landscaping Features

Desirable Plant Features Ornamental Flowers, Ornamental Stems, Fragrant (Flowers) (Day)
Plant & Rootzone Preference - Tolerance Dry Soils / Drought, Well-Drained Soils, Shallow Media (8 -10cm)
Landscape Uses Hanging Basket, Focal Plant, Container Planting, Green Roof

Fauna, Pollination and Dispersal

Pollination Method(s) Biotic (Fauna) (Carrion Insects (Carrion Fly, Carrion Beetle))

Plant Care and Propagation

Light Preference Full Sun
Water Preference Moderate Water, Little Water
Maintenance Requirements Moderate
Propagation Method Stem Cutting
Propagation Method Remarks Let cuttings callus up for 2 - 3 weeks before planting.


Foliar Modification Reduced / Needle-like

Non - Foliar and Storage

Stem Type & Modification Herbaceous
Root Type Underground (Fibrous Root)
Specialised Storage Organ(s) Aboveground

Floral (Angiosperm)

Flower & Plant Sexuality 1 Bisexual Flowers
Flower Colour(s) Brown, Cream / Off-White, Red
Flower Symmetry Radial
Flowering Habit Polycarpic

Image Repository



Master ID 29152
Species ID 3461
Flora Disclaimer The information in this website has been compiled from reliable sources, such as reference works on medicinal plants. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment and NParks does not purport to provide any medical advice. Readers should always consult his/her physician before using or consuming a plant for medicinal purposes.
Species record last updated on: 19 April 2022.