Admiring the long-lasting beauty of ‘Desert Rose’


This blooming beauty is one of the new varieties on display at a flower stall in Kota Sentosa Bazaar, near Kuching.

THE ‘Desert Rose’ is not exactly a rose, although it has that familiar rosy scent.

I saw some new varieties on display at a flower stall in Kota Sentosa Bazaar, near Kuching, recently.

I owned a few plants in the past, with the intention of fashioning them into bonsais.


The Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) is known as a succulent, with moisture-storing thickened stem known as caudex, which also includes the basal structure.

I have learnt that the plant was first found in Africa, which is no surprise to know that it can survive in an arid environment.

It is also said that this plant can survive for up to 500 years, and able to ‘take a break’ during the rainiest or the hottest months in between. Its fruit is a follicle that can be toxic. The seeds have bushy or hairy ‘pappus’ that make them light and able to glide in air.

Because of hybridisation, there are flowers that are white, blue, purple and fuchsia, apart from the traditional red.

There are three main sub-species of Desert Rose, all under the Apocynaceae (dogbane) flowering plants family: the pink-bloom socotranum is native to the Indian Ocean’s island of Socotra where the plant can grow to a height 15 feet (over 4.5m) and a trunk’s diameter of eight feet (around 2.5m) trunk; the somalenseis is native to Eastern Africa, having narrow blade leaves on twisting branches, with trumpet-shaped flowers in pink, white and crimson; the Swazicum is a dwarf sub-species that can reach height of up to two feet (0.6m), native to Southern Africa with flowers ranging in colours from white, pink to deep red


The Desert Rose can be grown either as an indoor or outdoor plant. Although relatively easy to plant and maintain, it is still important to establish the right sub-species for your home gardening.

Growing from seeds may take several years to reach maturity, so it is alright to pick up at the nursery plants that are nearing the flowering stage; hence, the importance of choosing the preferred variety beforehand.

The Desert Rose can grow from a branch cutting, but it may not have the characteristically bulbous trunk that makes it perfect for bonsai-fashioning, like the one that is seed-grown.

Important reminder: when cutting the stem or branch, avoid the toxic sap from being in contact with your skin. Allow the cutting to dry out in a day or two.

Then, dip the cutting’s end in a rooting hormone, before inserting it into the medium. The soil must be porous enough to facilitate daily watering.

After six weeks, you should be able to see the new growth with sufficient roots.

For seed-planting, use sand-soil mixture. Soak the seeds to rehydrate them before pinning them two inches (5cm) deep under the growth medium inside pots. Let it grow to a point enough for it to be transplanted in the ground later on. Keeping it too long in a pot can result in root-bound and further slow down its growth.

The Desert Rose can be grown either as an indoor or outdoor plant.


To encourage blooming, make sure the plant receives the optimal six hours of sunlight and fertiliser once a month when it is over eight months old. Pruning and branch-trimming should help balance the stem growth, making it more symmetrical. The methods are to cut the leaves on the stem-joining nodes, and to remove branches that rub over or cross one another.

For a plant meant for bonsai-making, it takes special attention. Cleanse the bulbous base so as to expose it out from the soil and enable the roots to get enlarged. More careful and delicate trimming is necessary to achieve the best, albeit slow, formation.

Common problems

In ideal growing conditions, the Desert Rose is relatively free from pests and diseases, but when the growing conditions are not viable, it reduces its natural defences.

The plant may exhibit yellowed leaves or sudden leaf loss due to fungal attack on the roots, and root-blacking and mushiness can also occur.

Cut the damaged or rotting parts and treat the plant with fungicide before planting it in a well-drained mixture.

Speckling on the lower leaves indicates mites’ attack, and you may also notice fine webbing and eggs on the underside of the leaves. Remove these using water jets, or a solution of insecticidal soap, or neem oil.

Happy Gardening!