homepage logo

What’s Blooming in Paradise: Giant starfish flower known for little, or no leaves

By Staff | Oct 14, 2015

Although giant starfish flower appears to be blooming from the ground, it contains small stems. ANITA FORCE MARSHALL

Plant Subject: Giant Starfish Flower (Stapelia gigantea)

First impression: Gynormous starfish shaped hairy blossoms that seem to be blooming from the ground, but they are attached to stems that are fleshy and notched and look like short green silos. Somewhere under all these stems we may find a beginning, but they seem to go on forever! I detect a not so nice fragrance that seems to be attracting bugs and flies. A gooey situation might occur if you try to pick these blossoms; you can look, but don’t touch this unique bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Giant starfish flower really describes this five star petal flower perfectly. Stapelia includes about 100 plus species of succulent herbs from the tropics of Africa and India. They are known for little, or no leaves and hairy, star shaped flowers. Our star consists of five petals in a star shape surrounding a tiny weenie hole in the center. That center has a carrion odor, aka essence of rotting meat, to attract its pollinator, which is flies and bugs. The petals colors of maroons and yellows are a visual cue to attracting pollinators by mimicking rotting meat. A paler yellow version called Schwankart is favored for its less pungent odors.

Attached along the topsides of each star petal are long red hairs that help the flies remain sticky, which also aids in their pollination process. Each bloom rests on the ground and is connected to a green fleshy cactus looking tower. These towers are the stems of the plant and are spineless and soft. They will spread out and resemble small buildings and grow into towns and cities, but can be divided and put in other places for a great low growing ground cover.

Low maintenance with drought tolerance is a great attribute especially when over use of fertilizer is an important issue in our paradise gardens. Always try to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into our precious waterways. Proper planning to create a right plant for the right zone garden will reward you with healthy plants that don’t continually need fertilizing fixes. Any fertilizing during our rainy season, only ends up in our water resources as unwanted algae blooms. We have a responsibility that begins in each of our gardens to keep all of our paradise pristine.

Although giant starfish flower appears to be blooming from the ground, it contains small stems. ANITA FORCE MARSHALL


Unique ever bloomer

Does well in sandy soil

Likes full sun

Natural bug zapper

Easy to maintain

Salt tolerance

Name and flower makes a great conversation piece

Great for a xeric ground cover

Cold tolerant

Great habitat plant

Easy care



May grow tired of telling everyone the name

Some people really dislike the odor


Conclusion: We have our very own natural bug zapper here in paradise. Venus flytrap eat your heart out, there a new Starfish in town.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!