How to Grow a Desert Rose Plant

Updated: Aug. 24, 2023

Learn what a desert rose plant looks like, as well as which zones it grows best in, how much water it needs, and how best to care for it.

Desert Rose Adenium obesumJill Staake
Desert rose is native to Africa

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 “The stems are so cool!” Desert rose plant growers, 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 Plant Stems

A desert rose plant has a thick, uniquely shaped stem

Desert rose (Adenium obesum) is a member of the Dogbane (Apocynaceae) family, which also includes oleander and plumeria. It’s native to the sub-Saharan regions of Africa. 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.

Psst! Learn how to grow drift roses as fabulous flowering groundcovers.

Desert Rose Flowers

Desert Rose Adenium obesumJill Staake
Grow desert rose in full sun for the best flowering.

Desert rose blooms 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 houseplant, chances are good you’re not giving it enough light. Move it to the sunniest window you have, or consider investing in a grow light. You can also move your desert rose plant outdoors for the summer months.

Check out the top 10 best houseplants for low light.

Watering Desert Rose

Desert Rose Adenium obesumJill Staake
Plant desert rose in well-draining soil.

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 the soil to go dry before watering again.

Is Desert Rose Poisonous?

Bear in mind that desert rose sap contains toxins that are poisonous 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.

These 8 houseplants aren’t safe for dogs.

Overwinter Desert Rose Indoors

Bbxsept CarolecarruthersCourtesy Carole Carruthers
Bring your desert rose indoors when temperatures drop.

This plant has waxy leaves and thick stems. We bring it inside for winter, and it loses most of its leaves. Then it comes back to life in the summer sun. What is it? —Carole Carruthers, Maplewood, Ohio

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.

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. The plant will send out new growth in spring as temperatures warm and you increase watering.

Check out 11 succulents that will attract pollinators.

More Desert Rose Plant Care Tips

14 Larrybuck1 Bbxsep19, desert roseCourtesy Larry Buck
Desert rose is a succulent plant

What is this flower? We’ve been guessing on how to care for it. —Larry Buck, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Garden expert Melinda Myers says, “It looks like you are providing excellent care for your desert rose plant. The swollen base and thick fleshy leaves help this succulent thrive in the semiarid climate of eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. With proper care, your plant can eventually grow 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Grow desert rose in full sun and well-draining soil outdoors in the summer.

“Water thoroughly and as often as needed during the warm sunny months. Consider watering it a bit more to encourage a larger swollen base. Use one or two applications of a balanced fertilizer in spring and early summer, and move the plant indoors when temperatures start dropping below 55 degrees. Place it in a cool, bright location indoors for winter, and decrease watering frequency.”

Next, more flashy flowering succulents to add to your garden.