The unusual world of Asclepiads and Stapeliads

21 Canarius | Monday April 10th, 2017 |

Odd and eccentric things always get our attention. This is what happens with the denominated asclepiads, a group of plants with almost 3,000 members, chiefly distributed in warm climates. They are perennial herbs, twining shrubs, lianas or rarely trees but notably also contain a significant number of leafless stem succulents, named stapeliads.


Their flowers are especially eye-catching for their beauty or for their unusual shapes. They often show unusual shapes such as starfish, chinese lanterns or spiders. They are often scented, and a source of nectar for some insects like bees, beetles, butterflies and more. A few species produce stinky flowers and attract flies as pollinators.

Asclepiads used to be a botanical plant family, but in the year 2000, the Asclepiadaceae family ceased to exist and since then asclepiads are considered a subfamily of the larger plant family Apocynaceae. The technical name of this subfamily is Asclepiadoideae.


The genus Hoya includes some of the most popular asclepiads among collectors.Hoyas are tropical climbers and epiphytes with showy umbels of fragrant flowers.

Some are cool-growers, native to high-elevation areas, while some other Hoya love hot tropical conditions.

One of them is Hoya Obovata, one of the Hoyas for Northern climates. Easy blooming and cool-hardy.It has beautiful round, glossy leaves and well shaped , long-lived, white blossoms.

The butterfly plant is the “true” Asclepias

asclepias-curassavicaThe genus Asclepias (without a D!) gives the name to Asclepiads. Asclepias curassavica is commonly known as the butterfly plant. It is the perfect host plant for the caterpillars of the beautiful monarch butterflies (both the African and the American species).

The 15 cm -long leaves are arranged oppositely on the stems and its small flowers are yellow, red, white or orange. In general terms, species of Asclepias are herbaceous or shrubby, with woody parts and with or without cork and fibrous roots.

They are toxic but they are also known for their medicinal properties in the treatment of dental problems in some states of Mexico. Another similar butterfly-plant that we often offer in our website is Gomphocarpus physocarpus, also called the Balloon Plant because of its swollen fruits. Gomphocarpus is another asclepiad, a bit taller, with white flowers and the same monarch butterflies love their leaves.

Stapeliads are special Asclepiads

Within Asclepiads we find the “florally advanced” Stapeliads (= botanical tribe Stapeliae) with lots of stem succulent genera such as Huernia, Stapelia and Hoodia. They are remarkable for the complex mechanisms they have developed for pollination, similar to the unrelated Orchid family, especially in the grouping of their pollen into pollinia. The fragrance from the flowers is often disgusting and they attract flies as pollinators.


They are native to different parts of Africa, to India and Myanmar. Two stapeliads are native to Europe: one is Caralluma burchardii, from the Canary Islands and one is Caralluma europaea, native to the drier South of Spain. Several species are endemic to the small island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa. The Arabian Peninsula, and most specifically the country of Yemen, contain another concentration of species. Several more are found in the drier parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Myanmar.

At Canarius, we have a wide variety of Stapeliads: angollumas, huernias, carallumas, and quite a few ceropegias – not really from A to Z – but yes from Ceropegia ampliata to Ceropegia woodii. The local stock of mother plants is continuously increasing, so we will offer more and more species and local forms in the next months and years.

If you want to know more about our asclepiads, stapeliads or asclepias, go to Canarius online store, discover and see all the details.

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