The Foul-Smelling Starfish Flowers Of Africasome of the most notorious carrion flowers belong to the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae), a very diverse plant family characterized by milky-white sap. Several South African succulent genera, including Stapelia, Caralluma and Huernia, resemble spineless, sprawling cacti with strange starfish-shaped flowers. The flesh-colored, hairy blossom of S. gigantea may be 8 to 10 inches across (20-25 cm), with a nauseating stench. Fringes of soft white hairs on the reddish-brown petals superficially resemble a layer of mold growing on rotting matter (at least through the compound eyes of carrion insects). Occasionally grown in southern California, the curious flowers attract flies and maggots when they are in full bloom. Another South African species, S. flavirostris, has strange blossoms that look and smell more like a furry, dead animal than a flower. The striped "zebra flowers" Huernia zebrina also produce an intensely fetid odor as they lie on the desert sands of South Africa. Another genus of climbing milkweeds (Ceropegia) produces striking, malodorous blossoms shaped like a wine glass, often with glistening cilia to attract flies. Like Aristolochia, they detain their visiting flies until the male flowers are mature.
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