Friday, February 4, 2011

Adenium Obesum

If you are searching for an interesting plant that will also add a splash of colour to a sunny windowsill, look no further than Adenium obesum, commonly-referred to as ‘desert rose’. Native to regions of Africa and Arabia, where it rains often but is very hot in the winter, this fleshy-leaved succulent can grow up to ten feet in height in the wild but rarely exceeds 3 feet when grown indoors. A magnificent specimen with glossy foliage and a swollen, often twisted trunk (caudex), the desert rose scores even more points with its production of lovely, trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of crimson red, bright pink and even white.

Although quite popular with houseplant enthusiasts, Adenium obesum is rarely available commercially at local stores. If you run across one locally, don’t hesitate to buy it; it may not be available for very long and may not be available again any time soon. For those who can’t wait for them to show up at local nurseries, or for those who missed the opportunity to get one when they did, there are a multitude of websites for online orders.

Quality of light is extremely important to this plant that needs plenty of sunshine in order to thrive and flower. Four to five hours of direct sun each day in front of an east, west or south window will encourage this succulent to flower. Adenium obesum will also do well in very bright light without a lot of direct sun, but it won’t bloom as often, or as profusely.

Adenium obesum is capable of surviving a great deal of neglect. But even this heavyweight has its limits, and it draws the line at over watering. If nothing else kills this plant, you can be sure that too much water will. Over watering - especially during the winter when little moisture is needed or when the plant is kept in cooler temperatures - is lethal to this otherwise resilient beauty.

Treat your Adenium obesum the same way you’d treat other succulents. During the growing season allow the soil to dry out moderately between each watering and then water thoroughly until it comes out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Do not wait too long to water or else you might force your plant into early dormancy. Young plants growing rapidly will require frequent watering while the older specimens with slower growth are more resistant to dry conditions. Be especially careful about keeping your Adenium obesum adequately hydrated when it’s flowering to keep the plant from dropping leaves and flowers prematurely.

When the winter season kicks in your plant prefers to stay dry, so water sparingly and keep the compost only very slightly moist. Make sure you are using a fast-draining, porous soil to prevent rot. And never allow a potted plant to sit on a saucer full of water. Always dump out the excess after the plant has been watered. You can also grow this plant in hydroculture; it adapts easily to the water-based system. A small number of leaves may be dropped when you transplant it from soil to water, but they will be replaced by vigorous new growth after the conversion is complete.

Adenium obesum is extremely heat tolerant, able to handle (and even thrive) in temperatures as high as 29°C (85°F) without a problem. However, bear in mind that higher temperatures mean shorter blooming periods; the higher the heat, the faster the flowers will fade. On the opposite end of the scale, never allow temperatures to drop below 10°C (54°F).

As winter approaches, unless you can provide your Adenium obesum with ample light, it’s best to allow it to go dormant. Inadequate light leads to weak, spindly growth that is unattractive and will inevitably need to be pruned. A much needed resting period in a cool room with temperatures between 10°C (54°F) and 16°C (61°F) is ideal and something that your plant will appreciate and benefit from. If there is no cool area in your home to place your plant, force it into dormancy by withholding water until all the leaves drop.

The easiest way to set the dormancy cycle in motion is by placing the plant outside for the summer and bringing it back indoors in the fall when the night temperatures have begun to drop. At that point the Adenium obesum will have dropped all its leaves and you can continue to induce that state by withholding water and keeping the plant in a shady location. When the winter season is coming to an end and the days start to get longer, resume watering and move the plant to a much brighter location as soon as it sprouts new growth. When the weather warms up and all danger of frost is gone, you can place your plant outdoors.

* Note: If your plant only drops a few leaves (not all of them) and continues to grow, do not withhold water entirely. Allow it to get completely dry before giving it a drink.

Under ideal conditions growth can be surprisingly quick and nutrients can be consumed rapidly, so feed your plant often but only a little at a time to promote healthy growth and abundant flowers. Follow your plants lead to determine how much and how often. If your plant is growing in leaps and bounds feed every couple of weeks with a preferred fertilizer at half strength. Time release pellets, liquid or powder fertilizer all work well. Feed less (once a month or every six weeks) if growth is slower and do not feed at all during the resting period.

Blooming, which typically occurs in the spring and again in the fall, can begin when the plant is very young and only about 14 cm (6 inches) in height. Quality light, proper watering and ideal care will encourage the Adenium obesum to produce beautiful flowers. It is also recommended that the plant be pruned hard to induce blooms, particularly when the days are shorter and cooler. Pruning should be done after the plant has had its resting period.

* Note: All parts of an Adenium obesum are poisonous. Make sure you wash your hands after handling the plant. Keep it safely out of reach of pets and children.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to add this succulent to your indoor plant collection, don’t hesitate to generate more of these beauties. Propagation is very easy. Take cuttings in the spring, allow them to dry for a couple of days, place them in a potting medium such as a sand-peat mix, keep them out of full sun until they root and before you know it you’ll have more of these beautiful plants adorning your home!

In its natural habitat an Adenium obesum can live to well over a hundred years. With proper care, your own plant growing indoors may live long enough to be an heirloom to be passed on to the next generation. Imagine that.


  1. Loved your article about the Adeniums. I recently got one and it is doing well. Your article helped me understand my plant better! :)

  2. Thank you, Nihal. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Good luck with your plant!