A Desert Rose plant, Adenium Obesum, is a lovely, unique – looking, slow growing succulent plant native to the semi-arid regions of Arabia, the eastern and western parts of Africa, and Madagascar. It’s quite the conversation piece, especially when in bloom, and is very easy to care for. A Desert Rose plant is in the Adenium genus and a member of the Dogbane family, other plants in this family include Vinca (periwinkle), Oleander, and Plumeria.
Desert Rose Plant Description
A Desert Rose plant is a type of caudiciform or “fat plant.” All caudiciforms have a caudex, a thick, bulbous base and fat, swollen trunk and stems. The interesting shape of the caudex can make a Desert Rose plant look like a natural bonsai without any effort on your part. When grown indoors, a Desert Rose plant is about 2ft–5ft tall and 1ft-3 ft wide. It produces sparse, small, leathery green leaves and beautiful 1″-2″ saucer- shaped flowers at the ends of the branches. The flowers are usually red, pink, or white, and the plant is quite a conversation piece when in bloom. The fat, bulbous trunk is partially or completely buried in the soil. It’s important to remember that a Desert Rose contains a toxic sap that will irritate your skin, eyes, and mouth, and should never be ingested. In Africa, the sap is used to make poison arrows for hunting large animals.
Desert Rose Plant Problems
No flowers: Not enough light, too much fertilizer, or the plant is still too young to flower
Yellow leaves: Usually due to over watering. The thick leaves stores water and gets soft when the plant needs water or too much direct sun
Green leaves falling off: Soil has gotten too dry
Shriveled, wrinkled caudex: This usually occurs when the plant needs water but can also be an indication of over watering and root rot.
Quick Care Tips for a Desert Rose Plant
Bright, indirect light
Allow the soil to practically dry out before watering
Feed monthly from May to October
Prefers warm temperatures above 60°F (15.6°C)
Use a soil that drains quickly
Keep in a small pot to prevent over watering
A Desert Rose plant requires very bright, indirect light, especially if you want it to flower.
The fat, bulbous base (caudex) of a Desert Rose stores water, so always allow the soil to practically dry out before watering. If the soil gets excessively dry, the plant becomes dormant; but once you water, leaves quickly start to grow again. The thick base, stems, and roots of a Desert Rose plant become soft and wrinkled when the soil is very dry or when the plant has been over watered and the roots have started to die.
Feed a Desert Rose plant with a fertilizer specifically for flowering plants. The plant food should be lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous (10/20/10). Feed monthly from late spring until early fall. Always dilute your plant food to one half the recommended strength.
A Desert Rose likes very warm temperatures. Keep the room above 60°F (15.6°C) and avoid placing the plant near air conditioners or cold drafts.
Basic household humidity for a succulent Desert Rose is perfect.
Flowering can occur throughout the year, but is more prolific in the spring and fall. Older plants that are well cared for produce the most blooms. The large, colorful flowers can be red, white, pink, or rose colored.
Aphids, spider mites, scale, and mealy bugsare all atrracted to a Desert Rose. Read more about these plant pests and how to identify and treat them in the Glossary of the website.
Most fungal or bacterial diseases that affect a Desert Rose plant, such as Crown, Root, and Stem Rot are the result of over- watering. It’s also important to keep water off the leaves, flowers, and stems.
Use a loose, fast draining soil mixture. Add hard sand to your usual potting soil to prevent it from becoming heavy and clay-like or use a soil specifically recommended for cactus and succulent plants.
A Desert Rose likes being root-bound in small pot. This helps prevent over-watering and keeps the plant from getting too large.
Prune a Desert Rose any time during the year. Flowers develop on the new growth, so pruning well before the plant blooms encourages more branching and more flowers. Wear gloves and long sleeves to protect yourself from the poisonous sap.
The best way to propagate a Desert Rose is from seeds, but this is rarely possible with an indoor plant. You can try using stem cuttings but the new plants often lack the thick, twisted trunks and fat bases that make a Desert Rose plant so interesting.
A Desert Rose often goes dormant during the winter and may drop leaves. Reduce watering during this time and do not fertilize.
Poisonous Plant Info
A Desert Rose plant is a very poisonous houseplant with a #2 Toxicity Level.
Leaves fall off a Desert Rose plant when it is over-watered. This is a succulent plant that requires very little water.
Here are a few hints that might help your Desert Rose plant develop a thicker trunk. When you re-pot your Desert Rose, lift the root ball higher in the new pot so that the top part of the roots is exposed. Feed with a good fertilizer high in phosphorus. This should help the trunk of your Desert Rose become more bulbous.
You need to aggressively prune your Desert Rose plant if you want it to look better. Cut back two or three of the stems almost to the main trunk, and place the plant in bright light. The new growth should start within three or four weeks. Once the new growth starts to develop, cut another two stems back. Check our Glossary under propagation/ plant cuttings to see how you can use these Stem Cuttings to start new plants.
A Desert Rose plant requires a great deal of bright light to flower. It also need to be fed with a fertilizer high in phosphorous, that’s the middle number on a plant food package (10/20/10), in order to bloom. A Desert Rose flowers more in the spring and fall than in summer and winter.