Orbea variegata, formerly known as Stapelia variegata, is a species of flowering succulents that will surely impress you once you find out how unique and interesting it is. A member of the Apocynaceae family, this succulent plant is native to the coastal belt of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Although it looks very much like a cactus, Orbea variegata is not closely related to the true cactus family at all.
There is no surprise that Orbea variegata enjoys lots of popularity worldwide. This succulent is an irresistible mix of peculiar and marvellous, bringing a touch of personality to any dull spot from your surroundings. Beyond looks, it is super friendly and comes along with very few demands from its owner.
Ready to learn more about Orbea variegata? Keep reading!
About Orbea Variegata
- The plant belongs to the Orbea genus that consists of exactly 30 unique species of flowering plants. It shares this genus with other species like O. ciliata, O. distincta, O. dummeri, O. lutea, O. schweinfurthii, O. semota, or O. umbracula.
- Its genus name “Orbea” comes from the Latin word “orbis”, which means disk, circle. This name refers to the more or less prominent central disk of its flowers. The specific epithet “variegata” points out the variegated petals that present multiple markings.
- In cultivation, this plant has numerous common names. Some of these names are Starfish flower, Star flower, Starfish plant, Starfish cactus, Carrion flower, Carrion cactus, Toad plant, and Toad cactus.
- Thanks to its special-looking flowers, Orbea variegata has become one of the recipients of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society.
- The blossoms of Orbea variegata can vary from one cultivar to another. On some specimens, they may have a faint carrion-like smell. This particular feature causes the plant to attract potential species of pollinating insects.
- Starfish flower can make for a wonderful addition to several landscape decorations. The most common landscape uses include desert gardens, rock gardens, succulent gardens, beds, borders, ground covers, and even potted specimens.
- Orbea variegata is a suitable companion plant to many other species of plants that have similar environmental and growing needs. Plant them near cacti, succulents, and other plants that thrive in a similar enviornment.
- This succulent is not toxic to either humans or animals if ingested. However, its stems come with slightly sharp, cactus-like spines that can be pretty sting if touched. For safety purposes, place this plant where your curious children or pets cannot reach it.
Orbea Variegata Features: An Overview
- Orbea variegata is a leafless perennial succulent. The plant can reach up to 4 inches (10 cm) in height and up to 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter. With time, Orbea variegata can form mature colonies and tends to become pretty invasive.
- Starfish flower produces long, thick, erect or prostrate, succulent, cactus-like stems that usually grow at a fairly fast pace. The stems feature spines. They mostly come in grey-green shades, but turn into beautiful shades of pink, purple, or red in full sun.
- Depending on the region, this plant can bloom in either late summer or autumn. During the flowering period, it exhibits star-shaped blossoms of up to 3.2 inches (8 cm) across.
- In general, the flowers of Orbea variegata are off-white or yellow and present hypnotic patterns of maroon through burgundy dots and lines. They appear with five-pointed or blunt lobes that surround a central, pentagonal corona.
- Once the blooming season has come to an end, Starfish flower bears fruits where its blooms were before. The fruits measure up to 5 inches (12.5 cm) in length and look very much like two horns. They show up with mixes of green, yellow, pink, or purple.
Growing Orbea Variegata
Orbea variegata will grow at its best if you expose it to environmental conditions that mimic its natural habitat. No worries, it is not difficult to meet these particular demands of your plant. All you have to do is pay a little extra attention to some of its basic growing requirements. And, of course, we do not even need to mention that it will only thrive with plenty of love!
In terms of lighting, Orbea variegata prefers to experience early morning light or late afternoon sunlight. If you live in a region with harsh afternoons, however, it would be wise to keep your plant in a spot where it can receive only lots of morning sun. In general, Orbea variegata will perform best when you provide it with at least six hours of bright, direct light. But! It will also benefit from a bit of shade during the hottest summer days.
While Starfish flower will do just fine in extremely hot temperatures, it will not tolerate cooler conditions or frost. This succulent is winter-hardy only in the USDA zones 9a through 11b. If the winter temperatures in your area drop below 20 °F (-6.7 °C), we recommend you to grow your Starfish flower in a pot and bring it inside in autumn.
Although Orbea variegata does not have too many issues regarding pests, mealybugs may bother it once in a while. These intruders usually feed on the stems and roots of your plant. It is very important to keep your plant free of mealybugs because damaged stems will make it more susceptible to fungal diseases. If you see any suspect presence on your Orbea variegata, handpick the pests, then apply insecticidal soap regularly to prevent any future infestation.
Planting Orbea Variegata
When it comes to its growing medium, Orbea variegata does well in soils that have excellent drainage. Moreover, for optimal growth, the substrate must be rich in organic matter and nutrients. This plant will grow nicely in commercial soil designed for succulents and cacti. But if you want to give your succulent the time of its life, plant it in a sandy mix that consists of equal parts of potting soil, washed river sand, and topsoil.
Starfish flower will benefit from regular applications of fertilizers. It is best to fertilize this plant during its active growing period, from April to August. Feed your succulent with a balanced diluted fertilizer once every month to spoil it with the needed nutrients.
If you want to grow your Orbea variegata in a pot, make sure you plant it in one that has at least one drainage hole at the bottom. Since this succulent grows at a fairly fast pace, it may require repotting more often than other houseplants. However, you should transplant your Orbea variegata into a new, one-size larger pot only when it outgrows its current one.
Watering Orbea Variegata
Orbea variegata has thick succulent steams that allow it to store impressive amounts of water. Due to this life-saving feature, you will not have to water your plant frequently. This succulent is a great company, especially if you are a beginner or a forgetful type of grower.
What is even better than its drought-tolerant habit is that Starfish flower usually goes dormant in regions where it does not receive enough rainfall. During this period, the succulent lives off its reserves for some time. However, it is super important to find out which area your plant comes from so that you know when it is alright to stop watering.
If you have a specimen from South Africa or Australia, your Orbea variegata will go dormant during the summer months. Make sure you skip watering from May through September. After this period, you can spoil your succulent with drinks whenever the soil has dried out completely.
For specimens that originate from Southeast Asia, the watering routine stops from November through April. Once your succulent goes out of dormancy, you can water it regularly. Still, as mentioned above, you must first allow the soil to dry out in-between waterings.
Propagating Orbea Variegata
Orbea variegata responds well to propagation via cuttings or seeds. If you are at the beginning of the road, do not be intimidated by this alluring succulent! Both methods require little to no effort on your part and usually show great results in an instant.
To propagate your Orbea variegata through cuttings, you will have to wait for it to end its flowering season. Once this happens, typically in mid-autumn, you can cut as many sections of healthy stems as you want. Make sure you allow the cut ends of each cutting to form a callous for a day or so. After this process, you can plant the cuttings in a pot filled with the same soil you are using for the mother plant. Add a touch of water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. With proper care, the cuttings will become fully-developed plants in one or two months.
The best time to start your own Orbea variegata from seed is in early spring. You can sow the seeds directly into the ground, but only once the last danger of frost has gone. Let the seeds sit just above the soil to get enough sunlight during the process. If you provide the seeds with water weekly, germination will occur in a month or so.
It is safe to say that Orbea variegata a.k.a. Starfish flower is a curious and interesting ornamental plant that will surprise you with its unique-looking blooms. Not only does this succulent look truly weird (in a good way), it is also strangely low-demanding.
Are you growing Orbea variegata? Let us know in the comments!