The desert rose (Adenium obesum) is a slow-growing plant (gaining less than 12 inches per year) that boasts a thick, succulent stem and deep pink flowers. It belongs to the genera Apocynaceae, which is native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar. The desert rose is the only Adenium found in wide cultivation, although it has been hybridized extensively to obtain different flower colors (like orange and striped).
In many tropical and warmer climates (USDA zones 11 and 12), it's a beloved ornamental outdoor plant, while in other parts of the country it adds color to the indoors. It's best planted in the spring and is deciduous in cooler winters, but can be kept in leaf if it receives warm enough temperatures and a bit of water. Overall, this varietal is fairly easy to care for and pays off big time with its blooming beauty.
|Botanical name||Adenium obesum|
|Common name||Desert rose, Sabi star, mock azalea, impala lily|
|Mature size||3–9 ft. tall, 3–5 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower color||Pink, red|
|Hardiness zones||11, 12 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to animals and humans|
Desert Rose Care
Tending to a desert rose plant is simple, but it does take some finesse. Similar to many plants in the succulent family, there are two main elements when it comes to successfully growing a desert rose plant: lots of sunlight and regular watering. The plant also prefers consistently warm temperatures, which is why, in many parts of the United States (except for USDA zones 11 and 12), it is an indoor plant. The plant typically blooms during the summer months, erupting with vibrant pink and red flowers and bright green leaves, before losing both and going dormant for the winter. While it is beautiful, it does come with a bit of caution—the sap of the desert rose plant is extremely toxic, and care should be taken to keep it out of reach of children and pets alike.
The desert rose plant thrives best in a full sun environment, so choose a spot in your home to house the plant that gets ample light throughout the day, like a bright windowsill or sunroom. If you live in an area where the desert rose plant can be grown successfully outdoors, select a spot in your garden that is not shaded by taller plants but maybe offers a bit of protection from high-noon sun, as that can scorch the plant's leaves.
As its name implies, the desert rose plant is used to naturally dry, desert-like conditions. This holds true for its love of light and warmer temperatures, as well as its need for sandy or gravelly soil that is well-draining. The soil should boast a neutral to acidic pH, hovering right around 6.0 ideally.
The desert rose plant has varying needs when it comes to water, depending on the time of year and temperature. During its growing season (late spring and summer), the soil of the desert rose should be kept moist but never saturated. Check on the soil periodically, allowing it to dry out completely before administering another watering. Additionally, take care to plant your desert rose in a vessel that boasts ample drainage holes, as it can be susceptible to rot if it becomes too moist (a clay or terracotta pot can also help with excess moisture).
Come the fall and winter months (when the plant typically goes dormant in the wild), you can reduce moisture drastically, watering only minimally once a month or so. If you're curious as to whether your plant is getting enough water during its growing season, you can look to its trunk for the answer. A swollen, thick trunk (in proportion to the size of your plant) is a great indication that your plant is well-hydrated.
Temperature and Humidity
Your plant should be kept in warm temperatures at all times—it will die quickly if exposed to prolonged temperatures of under 50 degrees Fahrenheit and thrives best at temperatures between 65 and 90 degrees. If you've planted your desert rose outdoors, know that it is not likely it will survive any frosts that the fall or winter months may bring. Humidity is not important to the desert rose, as it's used to the dry, hot climate a desert provides.
For an added dose of nutrients (and a chance at more flowers once bloomed), you can feed your desert rose with liquid fertilizer (diluted by half) once a month during its active growth period. Do not fertilize the plant during its dormant period.
Is the Desert Rose Plant Toxic?
If you live in a home with pets or young children, a desert rose plant may not be the pick for you. The varietal is known to be very dangerous, due to its milky sap that possesses lethal toxins (in fact, they were once used in poison arrows for hunting in Africa). All parts of the plant are considered toxic, including the stem, trunk, roots, leaves, and flowers, and animals can become instantly sickened just by licking the plant. If a pet or animal comes in contact with the sap of the desert rose, contact your vet or emergency animal poison control immediately. Humans should take care to wear gloves when working with the plant, wash hands with soapy water upon contact with the sap, and contact poison control should any symptoms persist.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Symptoms of poisoning typically show between 12 and 36 hours after exposure and can include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, mouth or throat sores, weakness, abdominal cramps, dilated pupils, seizures, low body temperature, and tremors.
Propagating a Desert Rose
The desert rose can be propagated from branch cuttings, but the plants often fail to develop the characteristic (and highly desired) bulbous stem. In order to expose the stem, you'll want to start the plant off in a tall, thin container before transplanting it into a shorted container that will allow a bit of the root to show.
Repotting a Desert Rose
Repot the desert rose as needed, preferably during the warm season. When repotting any kind of succulent, you should first make sure the soil is completely dry before gently remove the plant from the pot. Knock away the old soil from the roots, making sure to remove any rotted or dead roots in the process. Treat any cuts with a fungicide and antibacterial solution. Place the plant in its new pot and backfill with potting soil, spreading the roots out as you repot. Leave the plant dry for a week or so, then begin to water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.
Hossain, Amzad. A Review on Adenium Obesum: A Potential Endemic Medicinal Plant in Oman. Beni-Suef University Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 7,4,559-563,2018, doi:10.1016/j.bjbas.2018.06.008
Ademium Obseum. North Carolina State Cooperative Extension.