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What is a Desert Rose?

Discover interesting facts about the desert rose as we give you an in-depth background of these wonderful succulents. We've also included some propagation tips so you can add them to your windowsill or rock garden.

Absolutely stunning light pink and dark pink desert rose flowers in bloom again spirally arranged glossy leaves and twisted branches

Adenium Obesum

The desert rose is a beautiful, slow growing succulent that is native to Africa, Madagascar, and certain regions in the Middle East. Part of the botanical family apocynaceae, the desert rose is the only adenium plant of the genus that is used for cultivation.

This wonderful succulent is also known under the names of impala lily, kudu, mock azalea, or sari star. This is a fairly easy plant to care for as long as you live in a region that is able to imitate its natural desert habitat.

Desert roses are cultivated and hybridized because of the plants’ interesting thick succulent stem, and incredible pink, red, and sometimes orange or striped flowers. Though their growing conditions are specific, these colorful blooms will make it all worth it.

Not everyone lives in a place that receives 350 days of sun a year and moderate rainfall, and that is A-Okay. The desert rose’s natural habitat is a difficult thing to achieve, and this plant may not be the best choice for everyone. If that is that case for your, head on over to our Amazing List of Flowering Plant Species where you can find something better suited to your growing region!

Group of wild desert rose plants growing near the coast with large trunks and glossy green leaves

Related: Pink Flowers | Red Flowers | Sun-Loving Flowers | Water-Loving Flowers | Shade-Loving Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

Charming little desert rose bonsai tree with hot pink flower blossoms growing in a terracotta pot

What do Desert Rose Plants Look Like?

Flowers

Desert roses are cultivated because of their beautifully striking flower colors. The desert rose flower is up to 2 inches long and is borne in a tubular shape. It has 5 petals that are very similar in shape and appearance to the closely related plumeria and nerium genus species.

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Flowers will usually bloom in the early spring and extend throughout the summer months, and blossoms will bear colors of vibrant pink, bright red, or sometimes orange or striped combinations. The throat of the flower will usually have a white blushing affect.

Macro focused image of hot pink desert rose flowers with 5 petals and a blurred green background

Leaves

Desert roses can be either evergreen or deciduous, depending on the growing region. It will have evergreen leaves (remaining green and persisting all year long) if it exists in consistently warm conditions. It will have deciduous leaves (fall away when cold weather approaches) if it lives in an area that experiences cold spells, or if it experiences extended drought conditions.

Leaves are spirally arranged along a shoot and they cluster towards the ends. Each leaf is entire and simple, and it is between 2 and 6 inches in length and up to 3 inches broad. They are a glossy, deep green color, and are leathery in texture.

Growth Pattern

Desert roses are an interesting type of succulent that grows from something called pachycaul stems. Pachycaul stems are disproportionally thick compared to the rest of the plant which helps desert species survive drought (like a cactus!) They can grow to be between 1 and 3 metres tall.

The stem grows from a stout basal caudex, which is a type of plant basal structure where new growth arises. Though it is a shrub, it often gives the appearance of a tree due to its remarkably thick truck, lengthy branches, and leaves that occur at the ends of long stalks.

Incredible desert rose plant with amazing pachycaul thick stem and pink flower blossoms growing in a pot in a garden nursery

Where are Desert Roses Native to?

The desert rose is a native tropical plant to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Arabia. It occurs naturally in the Sahel regions southward of the Sahara desert — from Mauritania towards Senegal and Sudan.

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These plants prefer to exist in desert conditions, meaning sandy soil that receives full sun and moderate amounts of water. They are only capable of living in USDA growing zones 11 and 12.

Amazing wild desert rose trunks with pink flower blossoms growing in a desolate desert landscape on a cloudy day

How do you Propagate a Desert Rose Plant?

If you happen to live in a particularly warm climate, there’s a chance that you may be able to propagate a desert rose as an outdoor plant. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in the tropics, there is always the possibility of propagating a desert rose as an indoor plant.

Desert roses can be propagated either through seed or through stem cuttings, though plants grown from seed are more likely to exhibit that swollen stem-trunk we went over earlier.

These plants are best planted in the spring time. They take to root rather easily as long as they are placed in the perfect spot, so we’ll focus on the perfect placement.

The first step is to choose a place on your property that is a particularly sunny location. Ideally, you could find a spot that receives partial sun protection from the afternoon sun, as desert roses sometimes experience leaf scorch. If you’re growing a plant indoors, pick a south facing windowsill or a sunroom.

Second, is to ensure that you have the proper type of soil. The idea is to mimic their natural growing habitat, and so sandy, well drained, neutral or acidic soil is necessary.

Unestablished plants prefer to exist in slightly moist soils, though they should never saturated. Better established plants prefer to dry soils and are very drought tolerant.

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If your specimen is being kept as a pot plant, ensure that it has tons of good drainage holes at the bottom, and that it receives a repot whenever its roots become confined. If it being grown as a bonsai plant, repotting doesn’t need to occur as often because of its slow growth and purposeful confinement.

Desert rose root propagation in dark and moist soil in a planters pot

What are the Growing Conditions of Desert Roses?

Soil Type

The desert rose prefers a desert soil type. This is usually sand soil that is well drained, and has a pH level around 6.0.

Water Level

One of the most high maintenance requirements for a happy desert rose is watering level. The amount of watering will vary depending on the time of year and the temperature.

During the growing season of your plant it is important that the soil is moist but never entirely saturated. A way to achieve this is by waiting until the soil is completely dried out between waterings.

In the fall and winter months – usually when the plant goes into dormancy – the watering level can be greatly reduced. Water the plant about once a month. A way to tell if a plant is receiving enough water is by observing the trunk. If it is swollen and thick, it is happy.

Sun Exposure

Desert roses prefer to exist in full sun, though they are moderately tolerant of partial shade. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that they receive full sunlight in the mornings, but are partially protected during the hottest parts of the day.

Wild desert rose plant with giant stem growing in a desert landscape with boab trees and mountains in the background

Temperature

The desert rose is by no means a cold hardy plant. They are only capable of surviving in USDA growing zones 11 and 12, and will generally not survive a surprise frost.

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The minimum temperature they can tolerate as an indoor plant is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They thrive in temperatures that settle between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

The desert rose will respond very positively to fertilizer. Using a liquid fertilizer during its growth period will help growth and will ensure a longer bloom season of beautiful flowers.

Pruning

Desert roses can sometimes become leggy and rather tall if they are left unpruned, and so keeping it trim may be a good idea. Keeping a moderate height will make it more manageable, and pruning will create more stems, which will eventually result in more flowers as well!

Intolerances

Though they aren’t absurdly high maintenance, desert roses do have some rather specific requirements. It is intolerant to flooding, intolerant to full shade, and intolerant to soil that is poorly drained or basic.

Stunning bicolor desert rose flowers in bloom growing from thick stems and spirally arranged glossy leaves

How is a Desert Rose Plant Used?

Ornamental Plant

The main reason for desert rose cultivation is because of its ornamental value. It adds a level of exotic and unique botanical charm that is not easily achieved by most other plants.

This succulent plant is a very popular windowsill plant, rock garden plant, and they are a wonderful option for the art of bonsai tree growing as well. They can be grown as a container plant or in a pot as long as it is very well drained, and that repotting is maintained since they have robust roots.

Ethnobotany

Desert rose roots and stems contain a property called cardiac glycosides, which traditionally has been used to coat arrows for game hunting in certain African regions where the plant is native to.

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Ecology

Desert rose flowers are an important source of nutrients for various lepidopteran species (moths and butterflies), specifically the caterpillars of the polka dot wasp moth (syntomeida epilais). Their nectar is also important for other beneficial insects and pollinators.

Beautiful white blossoms of a cultivated desert rose plant growing in a large white pot in an ornamental garden

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