The Absolutely True Tale of the Evil Carrion Flower

When people learn that I'm a garden writer, they tend to do a double take.
"Really?" they say, before feigning interest and pressing for details. "So what do you write about? Tomatoes? Roses? Petunias?"
Watching my cool factor take a nosedive before my very eyes, I tell them about the coolest, most badass and masculine plant I can think of before they pass judgement on my girly hobby. Carrion flower is the kind of plant I would fall back on, since there's nothing more unexpected than a flower that mimics rotting meat to attract swarms of flies.

My Stapelia gigantea started out innocently enough. I bough a small rooted cutting for a dollar at a plant sale, and left neglected along with a pot of other succulents at my mother's house.

Then the creature took on a life of its own, sprouting new stems, clambering out of the container and spilling out onto the concrete in a bid to take over the patio! The unnatural growth was disconcerting enough, but things only got stranger after the plant had settled in.

In October of last year, my mother noticed these unusual ballooning growths in the shapes of turbans rising from the rampant stems. They kept inflating until after only a few days later, they unfurled into platter sized flowers with skin colored flesh, hairs covering the petals (yes, hairs) and squiggly lines the color of dried blood circling all around the center, a black hole that seemed to get closer and closer until it was right up to my nose! I recoiled in disgust at the gag inducing smell, vowing to never again tempt fate by bringing my face so close to what would be certain death. Never again.

After I sniffed the putrid petals a second time, and a third time... and quite possibly a fourth time, I noticed flies descending upon me in ravenous hordes, threatening to swallow me up in buzzing little wings. I jumped back from the flower in horror, fearing that I had let my naive curiosity become my downfall, swatting away the flies before they could lay eggs in my eye sockets. I recalled stories of botflies in the Amazon that lay their eggs in the sores of unfortunate travelers. When the explorer has found the discomfort unbearable, he would often scratch at the writhing wound until the maggots could be released from their human prison.

Actually it wasn't all that bad. I had gotten used to the smell by then and the horde of flies, well, there were only about two or three flies. Come to think of it, the flies looked pretty peaceable and friendly! They were laying eggs alright, but they steered clear of my nostrils and instead opted for what to them was a dead ringer for an open wound on a carcass: the carrion flower. After the little houseflies dropped their payload on the target, they happily buzzed off with their little heads filled with buggy thoughts of baby flies and whatever else it is that flies think of.

They were tricked by the wicked carrion flower. By the end of the day, each flower shriveled to the floppy shape of a popped balloon with the doomed eggs still in place, ready to one day hatch and die of starvation. The carrion flower has achieved its evil wishes, and the flies that intently buzzed between the flowers of faux fermenting flesh were instrumental all along.  

Stapelia gigantea relies on flies for pollination, just like its milkweed relatives rely on butterflies. Like the dark doppelganger of what we consider a typical flower, Stapelias produce flowers with the kind of aroma and grotesque appearance that only a vulture could love, all in the interest of survival by any means necessary.

Now how cool is that?

Who can guess what the little white clusters in the flowers are? That's right, fly eggs.


  1. Steve,
    While I found this interesting I think I will leave these plants to you,and stick to my pretty flowers and tasty vegetables.

  2. I like pretty flowers and tasty veggies too, but gosh darn it! Sometimes it's more fun to grow the weird stuff.

  3. Great read! While I already knew of these flowers and their deceitful ways I very much enjoyed reading your account of it!

  4. Very interesting post and great pictures!

  5. Gorgeous flowers Steve! I find the flowers of stapelias attractive, despite the nasty pong it's definitely worth growing :)

  6. hahaha! great start to the morning, this post. that plant is so interesting and even pretty...but the smell! no can do. i'm happy to see it here where there is no scent.

  7. It's actually gorgeous. I've never seen the flowers so densely packed before. Now I want one!

  8. Absolutely cool! Perfect post for this time of year. And Dude you are The blog Dude. Don't let those people think otherwise! LOL What a super plant that is. I have a Huernia Zebrina 'Magniflora'. I posted a blog post on it. It looks like a lifesaver. I have since aquired a couple more Huernia's but no Stapelia's as of yet. I saw this one at Huntington's recently. Awesome!


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