Focus on flora: Desert rose in Camana Bay

09 March 2020

By Shannon Schmidt

A bizarre, yet eye-catching, plant found in the Camana Bay landscape is the desert rose, or Adenium obesum.

When this plant is not flowering, your eye may pass straight over it because of its short stature and its common tropical appearance. At a closer look though, the desert rose has some uncommon and notable characteristics, like its swollen trunk and root system, which is indicative of a caudiciform. Caudiciforms are specialised plants which can swell and contract to store water during periods of drought.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, the desert rose can thrive in dry climates or in tropical climates that have a dry season as long as the minimum temperature does not go lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contrary to its common name, the desert rose is not actually a rose. In fact, it is in a completely different family than a true rose. Instead, it is part of the Apocynaceae family — which is largely identifiable by a milky sap that exudes when pruned or leaves are removed — and is also referred to as the Dogbane family because it is rumoured to have been used to poison wild dogs with its milky sap, which can be toxic if ingested.

One very impressive feature of the desert rose is that it can and will flower at a very young age given the right conditions. These plants prefer full, bright sun and must have a well-draining soil because they are highly susceptible to root rot. Because of this, these plants perform well growing in a pot the same size as their root ball, making them popular as bonsai specimens.

In the right conditions, the desert rose can bloom year round. In the summer months, it can be watered regularly and weekly fertilising at half rate is recommended.

During the winter months, to mimic its native habitat, the desert rose should be watered sparingly. Some claim that depriving it almost completely of water will produce better flowering; however, this may also open the plant up to undue stress and attract pests and disease.

For a great specimen plant, give it attention — but not too much — and you will be rewarded with its beautiful red, pink or white flowers.

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Focus on Flora.”