Brainy Gardener is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more >

    Starfish Cactus, also known as Orbea variegata, is a succulent plant native to Mexico and Central America. It is not a cactus, despite its common name. The plant is named for its star-shaped flowers, which are usually yellow, and densely dotted with brown spots.

    The flowers look amazing on their own, but they produce a horrid smell that stinks up a room quite thoroughly. That’s why it’s never recommended to grow these plants in an enclosed space; a patio or deck is a safe choice. The intense smell attracts insects for pollination. The buzzing of flies that circle a pollinating flower is similar to how insects are attracted to carrion, which is why it is also called Carrion Flower or Carrion Cactus.

    Specimens vary considerably. No two are quite alike. In fact, when the plant was first discovered, it was thought that there were many different species with similar appearances. However, it was later found out that all these variations exist within the same species, Orbea variegata.

    Starfish Cactus Main Characteristics

    Common NameCarrion Flower, Carrion Cactus, Toad Cactus, Starfish Cactus
    Botanical NameOrbea variegata
    SynonymsStapelia variegataStisseria variegata
    TypeFlowering Succulent
    Native RangeSouth Africa (Western Cape)
    USDA Hardiness Zones9a to 11b
    Mature SizeHeight: up to 10 inches; Spread: up to 4 inches
    Bloom TimeLate Summer, Autumn
    Propagation methodsby seeds, by cutting
    SunFull sun to Part shade

    Starfish Cactus Care

    It is an easy-to-grow houseplant that tolerates a wide range of conditions, making it a popular choice for beginning gardeners. It spreads so easily, in fact, that it’s considered an invasive species in many parts of the world. So check your local laws before introducing this cactus to your home.

    Starfish Cactus Care
    Starfish cactus care

    Light and Location

    Starfish Cactus can be grown outdoors in a sunny location, but it is also happy indoors with bright, indirect light. Some shade from the afternoon is appreciated but not necessary. Since the flowers have a very intense smell, it’s best to keep them away from areas where you spend a lot of time.


    Water this plant thoroughly, but allow the soil to dry out in between watering. In the winter, water even less often, just enough to keep the leaves from shriveling. Carrion Flower is quite drought-tolerant and can survive long periods without water.


    Starfish cactus does best in warm weather. It can survive short periods of colder temperatures, but it will not flower if the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C). It can even survive below freezing temperatures quite easily if kept dry. Good ventilation is key to keeping this plant happy.


    Starfish Cactus is not particular about humidity and will do well in both dry and humid conditions. However, if the temperature is quite cold, excess moisture in the environment may cause problems for the plant. To be on the safe side, keep dry.


    Fertilize this plant once a month during the growing season with a succulent fertilizer or a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. In the winter, fertilizing can be skipped altogether.

    Propagating Orbea variegata

    This is among the easiest cacti to propagate. Pollination by air is common, and you might find a new Starfish Cactus growing in a pot you don’t remember planting it in. Evidently, the plant can be propagated by seeds, but it’s much more common to propagate by cuttings. Simply take a cutting from the main plant after it has flowered and allow it to dry out for a few days before replanting in well-draining succulent soil. The cutting will quickly take root and grow into a new plant.

    To propagate by seeds, wait until the plant has flowered and fruits have developed. The fruits will eventually burst open, revealing seeds that can be planted in well-draining succulent soil. The seeds will germinate quickly, and the seedlings should be kept moist until they are well-established. Keep in mind that fresh seeds have the highest chances of germination, so plant as soon as possible.

    Potting and Repotting

    This plant can be quite aggressive and may even overwhelm other succulents in the same pot. Therefore, it’s best to keep it in its own pot where it can spread out without disrupting other plants. Carrion Flower is not particular about the potting mix, but well-draining succulent soil is always a good choice.

    The plant can be easily divided when repotting, and each piece will quickly grow into a new plant. Repotting needs to be done every two to three years.

    Orbea Variegata In A Pot
    Orbea variegata in a pot


    Starfish Cactus is non-toxic to humans or animals. But, the flower smell of rotting meat is a concern if you’re planning to spend an extended amount of time around this plant.

    Common Pests and Diseases

    This plant is susceptible to mealybugs and root rot if overwatered. However, these problems are easily avoidable with the proper care, so don’t let them deter you from growing this beautiful cactus.

    The Easiest Way To Take Care Of A Starfish Cactus (Orbea variegata) (Video)


    Is Orbea variegata Rare? 

    No, it’s not rare. In fact, it’s quite common in its native habitat and is often considered a weed. However, plant variations that don’t exude the rotting meat smell are rare and highly sought after.

    Why Does A Starfish Cactus Stink? 

    The flowers of the starfish cactus smell like rotting meat. This is to attract carrion flies, which are the main pollinators of the plant. The flies are attracted to the smell and transfer pollen from flower to flower as they feed.

    Why Is My Starfish Cactus Turning Red?

    If your starfish cactus is turning red, it’s probably because it’s not getting too much sunlight. This plant needs some shade to thrive. Move it to a shadier spot, and it should start to green up within a few days. Additionally, extreme temperature fluctuations can also cause the plant to turn red.

    Why Is My Starfish Cactus Drooping?

    If your Starfish Cactus is drooping, it’s probably because of overwatering. The plant is drought-tolerant and does not like to be kept too moist. Allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. If the problem persists, it could be a sign of root rot. In this case, you will need to replant the cactus in well-draining soil after cutting off the affected roots.


    Milo Mason is a self-proclaimed plant whisperer. With a passion for gardening, houseplants, and all things outdoors, Milo has been cultivating indoor plants for the past five years with an interest in perennials and succulents. He enjoys sharing his insights and research on plant species when it comes to care tips.

    Comments are closed.