Family ApocynaceaeKnown globally as African starfish flowers or locally as carrion flowers, members of the genus Stapelia are usually characterized by their foul-smelling flowers reminiscent of the odour of rotting meat. The hairs, coloration and surface mimic decaying animal matter and attract mostly flies, which act as pollinators. The strong carrion scent is sometimes recognizable at a great distance, especially on hot afternoons. Surprisingly, species such as S. erectiflora and S. flavopurpurea have sweetly scented flowers, but they are rare.
Stapelias are low, perennial succulents. The stems, their surface and branching make them immediately recognizable. The stems are almost always erect and are usually uniformly green to reddish, depending on the extent of exposure to the sun. Only rarely are they mottled with red or purple on green.
Stapelia gigantea is a very variable species with the largest flowers in the genus ranging from 100-400 mm in diameter. It is the most widely north-south distributed species and occurs in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
It grows in many habitats and may form clumps of 1-2 m in diameter. Flower segments are relatively thin and end in a long tail (visible in the bud as a long slender beak) by which it is separated from other large-flowered species. In the vegetative state it can be distinguished from S. grandiflora by the distinct flanks on the stems.
Flower colour ranges from biscuit to flesh-pink; flowering occurs from January-May. The species is known as carrion flower, aasblom (Afr.) or bandaulu ( Venda ). The epithet gigantea refers to the large size of the flower.