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Loukie Viljoen
the Stapeliae
A general introduction to this group

Document Revision 1.0
First Edited December, 11th, 2004
Reads : 7648

If one is very knowledgeable and interested about botany and flowers, and succulents in particular, you would inevitably come across some weird and wonderful flowers - the Stapeliads, colloquially known as "carrion flowers", because they attract flies and are pollinated by flies, and therefore some of the species emit an odour, maybe slight, even pleasant in some species, or a bit more offensive for some individuals in other species.

They are truly remarkable.

Roughly speaking, skipping some intermediate categories, we find them in the, of the Class of Dicotyledons, Subclass of Gamopetalae and the Family Apocynaceae (the Apocynaceae is the seventh largest family of the Angiosperms, containing 424 genera & 4200 species), subfamily Asclepiadoideae, and the Tribe of Ceropegieae.

Angiosperms are flowering plants with seeds enclosed in a container or a seed pod, in the Stapeliads it is the well known twin seed pods in the form of two horns. Dicotyledons are Angiosperms that have 2 cotyledons or seed leaves in the plantlet or in the embryo. After germination they tend to shrivel up, and drop off.

The Gamopetalae [Sympetalae] have petals that are not wholly separate from base of the flower but are fused into a tube of varying length forming a central tube, the corolla tube this is an advanced development of the flower so as to interact with insect visitors and so facilitate pollination. If human procreation was as complicated as the Stapeliads, the human race would long ago have disappeared.

The Asclepiadoideae contain roughly 220 genera with 320 to 1820 species, it has changed considerably, but this is a fluctuating total due to discoveries and taxonomic advances. The important distinguishing feature of the Asclepiadoideae is that the pollen content of the anthers are fused/united into waxy masses, that are attached in pairs to pincer like organs called pollen carriers. They form the most important part of the whole fertilization process in these plants, and such carriers of pollen is found in no other plant species, the waxy pollen masses of the Orchids may be an exception.

The seeds of these plants have amazing vitality, and often germinate within 24 hours, conditions being favorable.

The tribe Ceropegieae is all fleshy stemmed succulents, just about without leaves, and rarely is thorny. The absolute specialization of the very different flowers seem to be related to the species of flies that have to provide the means for pollination and fertilization, and is consequently very indicative of the flies available, only certain flies visit certain flowers, and therefore pollination is very flower and insect specific.

We can not write or discuss Stapeliads without referring or mentioning what is regarded as the bible of Stapeliads, the monumental 3 volume publication The Stapelieae by Alain C. White & Boyd L. Sloane that appeared in 1937, with a total of over 1200 pages. These books are very valuable, and no new books have been produced since then, we are all eagerly awaiting the publication of at least a new book for some guidance in this taxonomic minefield,

The seeds once escaping from the pods, often only a year later, and only if conditions are favorable are wind dispersed, the seed is suspended from a very light airy plume of filaments called the coma. They are dispersed, get caught up in the branches of a shrub, or tree, or in rock crevice where seed drops off, and germinates.

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