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Facts About the Desert Rose: Description, Adaptation, and Care

A graduate in botany, Nithya Venkat enjoys writing about plants that help sustain life on planet Earth.

Desert Rose

Desert Rose

The desert rose (Adenium obesum) is native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar. It is well known for its beautiful flowers and thick succulent stem.

The desert rose is not, in fact, a rose. It belongs to the Apocynaceae family. It is an evergreen or a drought-deciduous shrub and a slow-growing stem succulent, gaining less than twelve inches per year.

Desert rose is also known as Sabi star, kudu, mock azalea, impala lily. The Adenium obesum variety is the only species most widely cultivated. It can be grown as an outdoor or an indoor plant, depending on the climate of the place where it is grown. It is easy to grow and requires little maintenance as it can tolerate heat and drought.

Flower of Adenium obesum

Flower of Adenium obesum

Classification of the Desert Rose

Kingdom - Plantae

Division - Tracheophyta

Class - Dicotyledonae

Order - Gentianales

Family - Apocynaceae

Genus - Adenium

Species - Obesum

Description of the Desert Rose

The desert rose grows to a height of 3 - 9 feet tall with a spread of 3 - 5 feet. It is a thick-stemmed succulent plant with few leaves.

The desert rose has an unusual growth form. As it grows, it forms a broad, swollen, twisted base, also known as the caudex, that is partially buried under the ground. The caudex produces twisted leafless gray-green to brown branches.

The leaves appear at the stem tips and are about 4 inches long. The leaves are ovate grey-green leathery and spirally arranged.

The flowers are red, pink, or white. They are borne in small terminal corymbs throughout summer. The flowers are bell-shaped and grow up to 2 inches in width. Each flower has five spreading lobes and five protruding stamens. When the desert rose blooms, it looks like a flowering bonsai.

During the summer months, the desert rose blooms producing vibrant flowers with bright green leaves before losing both and becoming dormant during winter.

Paired follicular fruits on a cultivated desert rose plant

Paired follicular fruits on a cultivated desert rose plant

The seeds of the desert rose being dispersed

The seeds of the desert rose being dispersed

The fruit of the desert rose plant is a follicle (a dry dehiscent many-seeded fruit derived from one carpel). It is a long pod that grows to about 7 - 9 inches in length.

The seeds have a cylindrical shape with a brown staining integument and a brown-gold pappus (bristles) on both ends that helps dispersion by wind.

Adaptations of the Desert Rose

Succulent plants are drought-resistant plants with modified leaves, stems, or roots to store water.

The desert rose is a stem succulent. The stem of this plant is modified to become thick and fleshy to store water and nutrients to survive the dry, arid climate.

Desert rains are light and occur for a short period. To adapt to his condition, the desert rose has an extensive root system to help absorb large quantities of water in a short period and store it in the stem when needed by the plant.

The stem of the desert rose has a waxy cuticle that prevents the evaporation of water from the surface of the stem. There are a fewer number of stomas from which the water can escape through evaporation. It also reduces the metabolic rate to help conserve the stored water during a drought.

When the desert rose is stressed due to lack of water, the stomates close both day and night, thus preventing water loss from the plant.

Desert Rose Plant Care

The desert rose can be propagated from seeds and cuttings. This plant thrives well in a full sun environment. Choose a spot in your home that receives ample light throughout the day. If you are growing this plant outdoors, choose a spot in your garden that receives full sun and is not shaded by taller plants.

The desert rose, as the name suggests, is used to desert-like dry conditions. The soil should be neutral to acidic with a pH of around 6.0 for ideal growth.

The desert rose plant needs varying water needs depending upon the season. During the growing season (late summer and spring), the soil should be kept moist but not saturated. Allow the soil to dry out completely before watering the plant. Select a pot that has many drainage holes to prevent root rot.

In fall and winter, water the desert rose plant once a month. A swollen, thick trunk in proportion to the size of the plant is an indication that the plant is getting enough moisture.

The desert rose flourishes in temperatures between 65 - 90 degrees Fahrenheit and will die if exposed to prolonged temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add a liquid fertilizer once a month to induce the plant to produce more flowers. Do not fertilize the plant during its dormant period.

Word of Caution

Avoid the desert rose plant if you have children or pets, as all parts of the desert rose are toxic. If you choose to grow the desert rose, keep the plant out of reach of children and pets.

To protect yourself while handling the plant, wear gloves, especially while pruning or trimming it. If the sap comes in contact with any part of your body, wash it off with soap immediately. The sap of the desert rose can cause skin irritation. It is poisonous if ingested by humans or pets.

References

Missouri Botanical Garden

Plant Care Today

The Spruce

Earth Science Picture of the Day

© 2021 Nithya Venkat

Comments

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 17, 2021:

I totally agree, seeing this plant in full bloom looking so pretty-no one would imagine it being toxic. Thank you for your visit and comments.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 17, 2021:

Lorna yes the name does sound romantic. It is better to avoid growing this plant since you have pets. Thank you for your visit and comments.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 17, 2021:

The desert rose looks amazing when it flowers. I am happy you came to know about the desert rose through this article. Thank you for your visit and comments.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 17, 2021:

Flourishanyway you can grow this as an indoor plant too. Just keep it out of children and pets' reach. Thank you for your visit and comments.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 17, 2021:

Thank you, Devika. The desert rose is great to grow if you handle the plant wearing protective gloves.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 17, 2021:

Thank you for your visit and comments, Mary. The desert rose is a beautiful plant to grow.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 17, 2021:

Thank you for the information. We have this plant in my home. I love it.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 17, 2021:

Vellur The Desert Rose looks pretty but not to be taken lightly considering its toxic side of it. These facts are fascinating and I am educated about this plant from your well-researched hub. The plant will row in suited climates and I understand why as well.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 15, 2021:

That is a beautiful I’ve never seen before. Although I won’t be growing it because my husband just remarked tonight that I’ve never met a plant I could not kill, I’d love to give it a whirl. It seems like this plant would do well in the southwestern US but it probably gets too cool at certain times for this plant.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 15, 2021:

The Desert Rose is an unusual-looking but beautiful succulent plant. I don't think that I have ever seen one. Thanks for the education about it.

Lorna Lamon on May 15, 2021:

I love the name 'Desert Rose' which sounds so romantic. The plant itself is beautiful and even though I would love to grow it at home, we just don't have enough sunshine. We also have pets so it might be risky. I enjoyed this interesting article Vellur with wonderful photos.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 15, 2021:

vellur, you're welcome.

VIDYA D SAGAR on May 14, 2021:

Informative article Nithya. The flowers look beautiful and as it is easy maintenance, it would be nice to grow. But seeing it's beauty we would never imagine it is toxic also. Thanks for sharing. Have a good day.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Thank you for your visit and comments Chitrangada. This plant can be found in abundance in desert regions. They can be toxic if ingested otherwise you may just rash out.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Thank you Louise Powles. Yes, this plant is beautiful.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Thank you for your visit and comments Miebakagh. Roses are beautiful and the flowers of the desert rose are lovely too.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Thank you, Misbah. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on May 14, 2021:

Nithya, the desert rose plant looks lovely. I enjoyed reading it. a very informative and interesting article. Very detailed and well researched.

Blessings and love

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 14, 2021:

I like all roses. This specific specimen catch my curiousity. Thanks for the read.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 14, 2021:

Wow, that's a beautiful plant. I really like it.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 14, 2021:

Excellent article about the Desert Rose plant. These look so pretty, but as you say, they can be toxic. I don’t think, I have seen or heard about it earlier.

Thank you for the detailed information about this beautiful plant.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Thank you, Liz, the desert rose is a beautiful plant.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Yes Brenda the sap is dangerous if ingested and can cause skin irritation. Thank you for your visit and comments.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on May 14, 2021:

They look beautiful.

I've never watered anything in the winter.

Is the sap dangerous? You advise to wash off immediately.

Liz Westwood from UK on May 14, 2021:

This is a well-illustrated and fascinating article. You have chosen a beautiful plant to write about.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 14, 2021:

Thank you, Bill. It is easy to grow, but the climate should be suitable.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 14, 2021:

Fascinating information, my friend. Very pretty plant. It would not do well where we live, but it's something I wish we could grow in our yard.

I hope this finds you well and healthy.

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