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Orbea variegata was the first Stapeliad to arrive in Europe being introduced in 1639 by Justus Heurnius, a Dutch missionary who also collected plants, and gave his name (albeit spelt wrongly) to the genus Huernia.

Stapeliads are a large group of stem succulents belonging to the Asclepiadaceae or milkweed family. O variegata was originally named Stapelia variegata by Linnaeus in 1753 and transferred by Haworth to his newly created genus, Orbea, in 1812. Despite this it is still often known under its original name.

0812 Orbea variegata

O variegata comes from South Africa and, as its name implies, is extremely variable. At one time or another nearly 50 varieties have been described, none of which are now recognised.

It is one of the easiest Stapeliads to grow being happy in a well-drained, gritty compost, with plenty of water during the summer. It will probably do best in light shade and will also tolerate reasonably low winter temperatures. Plants can sometimes be found in garden centres sold as outdoor succulents, although I don't really think this is to be recommended in the UK.

0812 O variegata flower

Like all Stapeliads it has a five-lobed flower, produced from the outer stems of the plant. Stapeliads are famous of course for having flowers which smell of rotten meat and are pollinated by flies which are tempted to lay their eggs on them. In fact this is only true of a fairly small number of species. I've never detected any smell emanating from the flower of O variegata or noticed any flies taking any particular interest in it. However assuming the flies do their thing, flowers will be followed by long seed pods (up to 12cm), usually called seed horns, which split to release numerous feathery seeds.

O variegata is probably one of the most widely grown Stapeliads and is an excellent introduction to this fascinating group of plants.

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