UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service
458 Highway 98 North
Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578
April 24, 2008
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Feature Article - for release the week of April 27, 2008
Dan Culbert – Extension Horticulture Agent, Retired
A Rose for the Ages
Beyond the stresses of daily life, gardening can be a way to relax and enjoy what’s right with the world. Because we have recently endured more than our share of challenging events, I have resolved to write about something attractive for the home and garden that can help us create a special place in your Florida Yard.
Today’s column will introduce a very nice plant that can be enjoyed by anyone, the Desert Rose. If you take the time to select and properly care for this tropical ornamental, you will be repaid many times over with beauty for years to come.
The Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) is a succulent plant native to east Africa and parts of Arabia. Because it produces beautiful blooms with little care, it is a favorite of many gardeners. During the summer months in Florida it will produce large numbers of flowers with two-inch long trumpet-shaped bloom that come in various shades of pink, rose or white.
It is a member of the Dogbane (Apocynaceae) Family, which includes many other familiar topical plants such as the Allamanda, Carissa, Frangipani, Oleander, and the milkweeds. All of these plants, including the Desert Rose, contain poisonous substances, and most will bleed a white sap when cut.
The plant itself has very fleshy stems and will mature to form a large fat bulb-like structure at the base of the plant - called a caudex. It is a small to medium sized plant and can grow to be 4 to 5 feet tall. Because of it short growth habit, it often looks like a natural bonsai plant. (It is also a popular plant with bonsai enthusiasts.)
|Adenium are popular succulents with lots of flowers that are adapted well to containers. Photo: UF/IFAS||Flowers of the Desert Rose appear during the warmer times of the spring and early summer. There is a lot of variation among different cultivars. Photo: UF/IFAS||
The base of the Desert Rose plant will become enlarged - called a caudex. Photo: HEAR, Forest & Kim Starr
Direct sunlight to bright light is a must for these plants all year long. A southern facing porch is an ideal spot for this plant. If grown in too much shade, the Desert Rose will not flower properly and is likely to become leggy. In darker locations, especially in humid places like Florida, it can also develop plant diseases.
It thrives at warmer temperatures up to 90 degrees but will not survive too many hours below 40 degrees. To protect the Desert Rose from our occasional cold temperatures, consider growing it in a pot. That way it can be brought inside on those few days when the thermometer dips into less than tropical conditions. During the cooler times, the plant is kept a little bit on the dry side, as it does better with a seasonal period of dormancy.
The third critical element to success with the Desert Rose is restricted soil moisture. Remember that succulents require little water. To achieve optimum results, the Desert Rose requires both well drained soil and careful attention to avoid overwatering. Water should be withheld if day-time temperatures fall below 80oF or the weather is cool and cloudy. Dade County Extension Program Assistant John McLaughlin suggests that root rot problems can result from a combination of cool temperatures and wet soil that promote rot. He feels that when night time temperatures are above 65ºF that would be a better time to assess if watering is needed. In South Florida, regularly scheduled watering should be done only during extended hot, dry weather, such as our later springtime months. Be sure to feel the soil first to insure it is dry before adding water. When it needs water, water it thoroughly until it drains from the bottom, then don’t water again until the soil dries out completely.
Wayne and Maida Boynton of Loxahatchee & Pahokee FL provided this photo of their container grown Desert Rose. Note the dolly with wheels under the container that aids in moving this plant indoors in colder temperatures.
Adenium can be grown in any container with proper drainage. Unglazed ceramic pots are best because they allow the soil to dry out between each watering. For the long haul, remember that if a clay pots are used, they must be wide enough to allow for expansion of the thickened base of the stem (the caudex) to prevent the container from cracking. A free draining potting mix should always be used.
Success with direct planting of the Desert Rose into a Florida Yard should only be considered if the conditions are ideal for this plant. Instructions for preparing a raised bed of well-drained soil are available. Be sure the spot will get lots of sun and will not sit in a wet spot before planting it in the landscape. Desert Rose can be a great landscape item here in South Florida, but it needs those three elements of full sun, free of frost, and well drained soil - ideally it is part of a ‘dry garden’.
Nutrition needed by this plant is normal for other container grown ornamentals. Best results can be obtained by frequent applications of liquid fertilizer (e.g. half-strength 20/20/20) when the plant is in the active growth period. Withhold nutrients during periods of dormancy. Slow release granular fertilizers are also a good choice.
Pests and Propagation
Attention to proper watering and plant placement will take care of most plant diseases of the Desert Rose. There are few insect pests on this plant. Scale and mealy bugs sometime occur on the leaves. According to John McLaughlin, red spider mites are the worst pest in late spring, while scale insects are in issue in the fall. Oleander moth caterpillars occasionally take an interest in the leaves. Soap-based insecticides should be used, as certain chemical insecticides may damage the Desert Rose – so read the label first. Careful regular inspection of the plant can catch these critters early enough to keep them from becoming a problem.
Growing a new Desert Rose from existing plants takes a little care. Cuttings can be made, but some references report that plants grown from cuttings may not develop the thickened bulbous base (the caudex). Seed are rarely produced by this plant, but if the long seed pods are found, growing seed into plants may be possible. (A publication on how to do this is available from our office.) Extreme hobbyists have even been able to graft superior selections onto a rootstock with impressive results.
|Desert Rose plants can be grown outside in temperate areas, but in containers, and need to be moved indoors when cooler temperatures arrive. Photo: Victoria Furman, Illinois||Notice the "helicopter blades" or wings on this plant? They are a seed pod growing on this Desert Rose. Photo: Bob Coughlin, The Villages, Florida||When dry, Desert Rose seed pods split, releasing many seed with feathery hairs. Photo: Rita Davidson, Sherwood, Arkansas|
For additional information, visit the Solutions For Your Life website: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu or your local County Extension Office. Go Gators!
Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/ affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida, Nick Place, Dean. Last update: 03/31/2015.
Begeman, John. Grow Tropical Plants in Containers. Tucson: Pima County Extension Service/CALS/University of Arizona, 3/13/2005 http://ag.arizona.edu/gardening/news/articles/6.18.html
J. and Garofalo, J. Desert Rose (Adenium
obesum) Nursery Production. [Fact-sheet No.
Miami-Dade County / University of Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, 9/2002.
McLaughlin, J. Succulents in Miami Dade: Planting a Dry Rock Garden. Homestead: Miami-Dade County / University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 2003(?) http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/old/programs/urbanhort/publications/PDF/Planting%20a%20Dry%20Rock%20Garden%20in%20Miam1.pdf . p.12-14 of this 48 page bulletin talk specifically about Desert Rose.
Wilbur, Wendy. “Desert Rose”. In: Ask Wendy - Weekly Home Horticulture Column. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Service, May, 2004. http://alachua.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_and_garden/ask_wendy/spring_2004.shtml
Commercial Adenium Nursery grower in Thailand; shows bonsai production techniques, cultivars, etc.: http://www.siamadenium.com/
Fort Lauderdale, FL Nursery - shows photos of landscape plantings, varieties, and even a seed pod! http://mgonline.com/desertrose.html
"Dave's Garden" webpage on Desert Rose; includes comments on culture, pests, propagation, plus photos: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/527/
Photos of Desert Rose: http://www.hear.org/starr/hiplants/images/thumbnails/html/adenium_obesum.htm
More general information about this plant can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adenium
A plant hobbyist in Missouri has an extensive collection of Desert Roses; her pictures are posted at http://picasaweb.google.com/longcucpaul/HoaSuThaiLan2009#