Stapelia grandiflora is native to the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. It has a long list of common names, including carrion flower, starfish flower, starfish cactus, and giant toad plant. These names are shared with the similar Stapelia gigantea, featured on BPotD in 2005. Contrary to some of its common names, starfish cactus is not actually a cactus, though it is a succulent. It does resemble a starfish!
Starfish cactus is a procumbent, creeping perennial. It grows in large clusters around 50cm (20 inches) in diameter. Each star-shaped flower is generally 15cm (6in) across, and coloured dark orange, red, or brown–this makes the flowers of Stapelia grandiflora smaller than those of Stapelia gigantea. Starfish cactus flowers open intermittently through the summer and autumn, but can bloom year-round in greenhouse environments. The flower buds resemble the onion-shaped domes associated with Russian Orthodox churches.
Carrion flower is named for its successful mimicry of decaying animal flesh. Both the appearance (the colour and the banding resembling animal tissues) and the odour attract its main pollinators, flies (a set of characters when combined together form a pollination syndrome termed sapromyophily). Flies will lay their eggs in decomposing flesh, which is a food source for their larvae. Flies drawn to the strong smell of Stapelia grandiflora will both mistakenly lay their eggs on the surface of the flower and inadvertently pollinate it. Carrion flowers grow in low densities in areas where pollinating insects are not abundant, so the potent odour is an effective mechanism for ensuring visitation to multiple flowers. Despite the fragrance, Stapelia grandiflora is a common house plant, for both its easy care and interesting appearance.