Starfish cacti (Stapelia grandiflora) are also more pathologically referred to as carrion flowers. These fetid but spectacular plants share characteristics similar to those in the carnivore family, in that they possess insect-attracting (but not carnivorous) flora that range in size from a few inches (5 cm) tall to plants that bear 12 – inches (30 cm.) wide flowers. This species of plant is native to South Africa, so growing starfish flowers usually requires warm, humid temperatures or a specialized greenhouse environment.
Starfish cacti can produce amazing five-petalled flowers that emit a rather unpleasant smell. The scent attracts flies and other insects that pollinate the flowers. Flowers are red to brown and may be speckled with a few colors.
Stapelia is the family name of the starfish flower cactus. The ‘Gigantea’ is the most commonly collected, as a showy specimen with flowers a foot wide. Using Starfish Cactus buds will mature into a pretty awful smell after a few days. This stench is attractive to insects searching for dead organic matter. If you have a fruit fly infestation or other pest, try introducing your smelly plant favorite to the area. The insects are attracted by the stench of carrion and sit spellbound on the flower, unable to move.
More common uses of starfish cacti are as an ornamental specimen, which is quite the talking point. The wide succulent branches themselves have little ornamental use, but once the flowers arrive in summer the plant has a high wow factor. Of course, in this case you will have to deal with the smell, but you can take it outside if the smell is too unpleasant. Remember to bring it back in if you live in a zone outside of USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11.