Family: Asclepiadaceae: The Asclepias (milkweed) family
Asclepias: Named for Asklepios, the god of healing in Greek, because of the supposed medicinal qualities of plants in this genus.
Stapelia: Genus Named for Johannes Bodaeus van Stapel, 17th century Dutch botanist and physician
Common names: Carrion Plant, Carrion Flower, Starfish Plant
Origin: Southern Africa, Zambia
These plants are used in traditional medicine to treat hysteria and pain. Also used in sorcery as a poison, reportedly capable of causing death. Many species contain cardiac glysosides, the toxicity of which may cause death in livestock or humans.
Description: "Stems erect or decumbent, 10-20 cm long, softly pubescent. Flowers 1-2 in clusters near the base or middle of young branches, pedicels ca. 2.5 cm long; corolla reddish brown to yellow with irregular reddish brown transverse lines, rotate, the lobes ovate, 10-16 cm long, pubescent with long purple hairs; corona purplish brown" (Wagner et al., 1999).
Stapelia is a large genus of over 40 asclepiads from southern Africa. They have spineless, mostly upright, succulent stems. This genus has large star-shaped flowers that can exceed 8 inches in diameter (20 cm).
The flowering buds are large and feel puffy to the touch. Note the twisted tips of the corolla lobes.
The stems are 4-angled with the angles toothed with rudimentary leaves.
All or part of the flowers are hairy.
The flowers, as many other asclepiad genera, give off a pestilent smell that attracts flies. As they buzz from flower to flower, flies collect pollen and transport it to the next plant, thereby ensuring the successful pollination of this species. The flower's putrid smell and hairy, leathery texture mimic the rotting flesh of a dead animal.
A fly entering the inner corona of the flower to either drink nectar or, in the case of a female, to lay eggs in the belief that the flower is carrion. The eggs will hatch, but the larvae die.
The corona is cunningly constructed so that on the fly's visit, any of its appendages may become trapped in one of five openings in the staminal column. In jerking itself free, the fly removes the pollinia. The fly then carries it to another flower, where disengagement may occur, the pollinia being deposited in a favourable position for the multiple germination of the pollen grains.