An unusual succulent plant from South Africa (1) (3), Stapelia glanduliflora belongs to a group of plants named for their peculiar, foul-smelling flowers, which produce an odour similar to that of rotting meat. The colour, texture and furry surface of carrion flowers also increase their resemblance to decaying animal matter, helping to attract flies which act as pollinators (4) (5).
Like other Stapelia species, Stapelia glanduliflora is a low, perennial plant with erect, fleshy, four-angled stems that bear rows of tubercles (3) (4) (6) (7). Each tubercle bears a tiny, rudimentary leaf (4) (7). The stems of Stapelia glanduliflora measure around 1.2 to 1.8 centimetres across and are covered in minute, soft hairs (3) (8). This plant usually grows in small clumps (2).
Stapelia glanduliflora produces groups of three to nine flowers, which grow on short stalks at the base of the stems and open in succession (2) (3) (8). The stalks lie along the ground, with the flowers facing upwards (2) (3) (7).
The flowers of Stapelia species are typically flat, star-shaped and deeply lobed, with wrinkled and hairy petals (3) (4) (6) (7). Stapelia glanduliflora has pale greenish-yellow flowers with fine purplish marks, and its flowers are densely covered in stiff, white, club-shaped hairs, particularly towards the centre and edges (2) (3) (7) (8). Each flower measures around 2.5 to 3.5 centimetres across (2) (3) (7) and is composed of five outer lobes and five short, inner lobes, which are yellowish, margined with red-brown (3) (7) (8). The flowers of Stapelia glanduliflora are reported to have only a relatively faint odour (8).
In general, Stapelia species produce hairy fruits containing a large number of seeds. Each seed possesses a tuft of hairs that may help it to be dispersed by the wind (4).
- Also known as
- Gonostemon glanduliflorus, Stapelia glandulifera, Stapelia glanduliflora var. emarginata, Stapelia glanduliflora var. haworthii, Stapelia glanduliflora var. massonii, Stapelia hispidula.
- Height: up to 20 cm (2) (3)
Carrion flower biology
Little specific information is available on the biology and life history of Stapelia glanduliflora, although it is reported to flower between March and June (7).
The foul, carrion-like smell and unusual appearance of Stapelia flowers is thought to attract insect pollinators, particularly flies, which mistake them for the carrion on which they lay their eggs (4) (5) (6). Usually, the inner part of the flower possesses a complex structure which traps the mouthparts or legs of the fly (4) (5). As the fly struggles to free itself, pollen sacs attach to it and are then transferred to the next flower it visits, allowing pollination to occur (4).
The light seeds of Stapelia species, with their tuft of hairs and wing-like edges, are dispersed by the wind. Like most carrion flower species, Stapelia glanduliflora may be relatively short-lived (4).
Carrion flower range
Stapelia glanduliflora is endemic to South Africa, where it is known from only four locations in the Western Cape, from Klawer to just north of Citrusdal (1) (3) (7).
Carrion flower habitat
This unusual plant inhabits South Africa’s distinctive fynbos (1), a type of fire-dependent shrubland composed of hard-leaved, evergreen plants and shrubs that grow on rocky or sandy, nutrient-poor soils (9) (10).
Within this habitat, Stapelia glanduliflora is found on arid, stony slopes among bushes, usually at elevations of 100 to 300 metres (1) (7).
Carrion flower status
Stapelia glanduliflora is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the Red List of South African Plants (1).
Carrion flower threats
The greatest threat to the unique plants of South Africa, including Stapelia glanduliflora, is habitat destruction due to the spread of agriculture and urban development (9) (10) (11). Invasive, non-native plants also pose a significant threat, while climate change, drought and changes to fire regimes are also likely to impact on the native vegetation of the region (9) (10).
Although the population of Stapelia glanduliflora is not currently believed to be in decline, this species has lost habitat in the past to crop cultivation, and may potentially become more threatened in the future as irrigation techniques improve (1). Its restriction to just four locations also puts this species at greater risk of extinction (1).
Some Stapelia species are sought by collectors for cultivation (4), but the potential impacts on Stapelia glanduliflora are unknown.
Carrion flower conservation
There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for Stapelia glanduliflora, and this species has yet to be assessed by the IUCN (12).
Known as the Cape Floristic Region, the region in which Stapelia glanduliflora occurs is considered to be a global ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity, as it contains the greatest concentration of non-tropical higher plant species in the world, and is home to over 6,000 endemic plants (9) (10). Much of the region is protected and is designated as a World Heritage Site (9) (10), although these protected areas are not always representative of the region’s full diversity (9).
Fortunately, a wide range of conservation efforts are underway to protect the native vegetation of the Cape Floristic Region (9) (10), and these may go some way towards helping protect unusual and poorly-known plants such as Stapelia glanduliflora.
Find out more
Find out more about Stapelia species:
More information on conservation in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa:
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- Cape Floristic Region
- An area occupying about 90,000 square kilometres in South Africa that contains an incredibly high diversity of plant species (around 8,700 species), of which 68 percent are found nowhere else.
- The flesh of a dead animal.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- A plant which retains leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous plants, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
- The natural shrubland vegetation occurring in the southwestern and southern Cape of South Africa, holding the greatest diversity of plant species in the world. Fynbos is characterised by tall shrubs with large leaves, heath-like shrubs, wiry reed-like plants, and bulbous herbs.
- A plant that normally lives for more than two seasons. After an initial period, the plant produces flowers once a year.
- The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
- Animals that in the act of visiting a plant’s flowers transfer pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
- In plants, species with thick, fleshy, water-storing stems and leaves.
- A small wart-like or angular swelling upon the stem of a plant.
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Albers, F. and Meve, U. (Eds.) (2002) Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Asclepiadaceae. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Walters, S.M. (2000) The European Garden Flora: A Manual for the Identification of Plants Cultivated in Europe, Both Out-of-Doors and Under Glass. Volume 6: Dicotyledons (Part IV), Loganiaceae to Compositae. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
PlantZAfrica - Stapelia (February, 2012)
Meve, U. and Liede, S. (1994) Floral biology and pollination in stapeliads - new results and a literature review. Plant Systematics and Evolution, 192: 99-116.
Manning, J. (2007) Field Guide to Fynbos. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
South African National Biodiversity Institute - SIBIS (February, 2012)
Brown, N.E. (1909) STAPELIA glanduliflora Masson [family ASCLEPIADACEAE]. Flora Capensis, 4: 518. Available at:
Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots - Cape Floristic Region (February, 2012)
UNEP-WCMC: Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, Western Cape & Eastern Cape Provinces, South Africa (February, 2012)
Oldfield, S. (1997) Cactus and Succulent Plants: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
IUCN Red List (February, 2012)