The desert rose

Origins and botanical notes

The desert rose (scientific name Adenium obesum) is an evergreen succulent plant belonging to the Apocynaceae family (a family to which the oleander also belongs). Native to the African continent, and more precisely to the south-east area, it has given life in the course of evolution and numerous subspecies, endemisms and geographical races, which differ from each other in size, color of the flowers and shape of the trunk and leaves . It is commonly called “Madagascar oleander” and in nature some specimens can even exceed 3 meters in height, but generally maintain modest dimensions. In Europe it is possible to find them almost exclusively as bonsai plants. The trunk is very broad, globular on the bottom and with a characteristic light brown color. The leaves are oval, leathery and bright green, while the flowers are large, with 5 petals and a corolla that can reach 13 centimeters in length. After flowering the fruits appear, represented by long dark pods inside which there are plumed seeds.


reproduction by cutting is difficult in this species, but the desert rose can be obtained by sowing. When the pods of the mother plant are mature, they will open to allow the seeds to come out. Once harvested (paying attention to their minute dimensions and the extremely volatile pappus) they must be placed in a special seedbed: it will consist of a container with a hole in the bottom, 1/3 covered with draining material (perlite or vermiculite) and for the rest. 2/3 of soil for succulents. The seeds should be placed at a distance of about 4-5 centimeters from each other and covered with a light layer of soil (they must never be buried deeply). The seedbed must be kept at controlled temperatures, from 25 degrees to rising, and the soil must be kept moist, avoiding stagnation of water.

Treating the desert rose

Given its tropical origins, the desert rose does not tolerate temperatures below 15 degrees centigrade; for this reason it is difficult to grow it in the garden, while it is relatively easy to do it by keeping it in pot. In summer it can be left outside, in a sheltered place, in winter it must be kept indoors. As with young seeds and seedlings, adult plants also need well-drained soil, since they are easily prone to root rot and related pathologies. Once the desert rose has been placed in a large vase, we will take care to place it in a bright place and in direct contact with the sun. Being a succulent plant, watering will be reduced to twice a month in spring and summer, while keeping the soil moist if it dries out too much (with the help of a nebulizer) while in winter we will cease to wet the ground. Pruning is not necessary for this species, apart from the specimens with excessively high branches, in this case it is good to cut the branches in early spring. However, the twigs and dry leaves must be eliminated.

The desert rose: Curiosities

It is possible to graft the desert rose with the oleander, since both belong to the same family. The operation is rather difficult and it is not always successful, however choosing the right period (in April-May) and a good oleander as a graft holder, those who are already familiar with this practice can try to graft the desert rose. In its homeland this plant is used by the natives for the manufacture of arrows used for hunting; the desert rose, in fact, is poisonous in all its parts (from the seed to the flowers), and its sap contains various toxins that interfere with the normal functioning of the cardio-circulatory system. In contact with the skin, latex is irritating, so care must be taken when moving the plant, in order to avoid accidentally breaking branches, or when cutting branches that are too long; in this regard it is suggested to use latex gloves.

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