Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)

The striking flowers of Desert Rose are reason enough to grow this succulent indoors or out, but the stem adds interest too.

When you ask someone why they like growing a particular plant, there are a few answers you can expect to hear pretty regularly. “Beautiful flowers,” they might say. “Love the fragrance,” is another, or “So easy to take care of.” One answer you might not expect is “Their stems are so cool!” Growers of Desert Rose, though, just might understand. This succulent has sturdy, attractive foliage and striking blooms, but the almost adorably tubby stems are a special attraction of this plant for many gardeners.

Desert Rose Adenium obesum

Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) is a member of the Dogbane (Apocynaceae) family, which also includes oleander and plumeria. It’s native to south and east Africa and parts of the Arabian peninsula. This plant is a succulent, which means it has thickened stems that help retain water during extended droughts (think cactus or aloe, for instance). In the case of Desert Rose, the stem becomes woody over time and develops a plump, rounded shape that gives it a unique appeal.

Desert Rose Adenium obesum

The blooms of Desert Rose appear in the summer months when the plant receives enough water and sun. This is a plant that loves sunlight, and will not thrive without at least 6 hours a day in direct sun. If you’re struggling with growing this species as a house plant, chances are good you’re not giving it enough light. Move it to the sunniest window you have, or consider investing in an inexpensive grow light. You can also move it outdoors for the summer months.

Desert Rose Adenium obesum

As a succulent, Desert Rose is quite drought-tolerant, but it will flower best if given regular water during the summer. Make sure the soil is well-drained, as standing water is something this plant won’t tolerate. Allow it a dormant period in the cooler months by reducing watering from fall to spring (once a week will be more than sufficient). There’s a good chance it will lose its leaves during this time, but that doesn’t mean you’ve killed it. This is a deciduous succulent, and leaf loss is normal during dormancy. Be patient and provide it with plenty of sun, and the leaves should return in the spring.

Desert Rose Adenium obesum

In zone 10 and higher, you can plant Desert Rose outdoors (full sun, well-drained soil). All other zones should treat it as a container plant, since it cannot tolerate frost or freezes. Bear in mind that Desert Rose sap contains toxins that are toxic to humans and animals (native African hunters use it to tip poison arrows), so use gloves when pruning and keep plants out of the reach of kids and pets.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.