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Mr. Smarty Plants - A cactus-like plant with stinky flowers

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Monday - July 22, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: A cactus-like plant with stinky flowers
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Because of the green parts looking like certain cacti, a friend insists that this plant she saw in Mexico is one. Its blossom doesn't have the rose-like structure that cacti have, but resembles the infamous Rafflesia, as well as stinking like it. How can I disabuse her of the error?

ANSWER:

I don't know of a native plant that fits that description, and I am not really up on non-natives of the U.S.  However, I am willing to bet that your friend saw a species of Stapelia.  There are about 40 species, many of which have foliage resembling cactus pads, although they are not closely related to the cacti.  They are native to South Africa.  Some of the more spectacular species are pictured in the following web site. Remembering the one I had some years ago, I can vouch for the carrion smell of the gaudy flowers.

 

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