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Desert Rose Succulent Plant (Adenium obesum) Care & Toxin Information

The desert rose (Adenium obesum) is a striking plant with succulent stems and deep red flowers. Every part of these plants demands interest. The Desert Rose plant has dramatically swollen stems on older plants that resemble a bonsai tree. This succulent provides bright flowers and while not in bloom it has interesting tight clusters of narrow, green leaves. However, there is an important consideration when growing this plant, particularly in the house. Its sap is poisonous and should never come into contact with children or pets. It is suggested that if you get sap on yourself while handling the plant, wash your hands immediately.

Desert Rose Succulent PlantGrowing Conditions

Light: Full sun. Perfect for a sunny window.
Water: Water during the summer and spring. Reduce water in the winter, but keep hydrated enough to retain its leaves.
Temperature: Keep at least 50 F at all times; if you keep temperatures of 60 F or higher during the winter, the plant may retain its leaves.
Soil: A well-drained succulent mix, (We recommend Miracle Grow) with an ideal pH around 6.0 (slightly acidic).
Fertilizer: Fertilize during spring and summer with controlled-release fertilizer or liquid fertilizer according to label directions.


Propagation is typically by seed. If your plant develops a seed pod, plant the seeds as soon as possible after the pod ripens, to maximize the chance of germination. The fresher the seeds the better. If you don’t have a mature plant for harvesting seeds, ask your seed supplier about freshness before buying.

Some gardeners use a heat source to keep the containers at 80-85 F; otherwise, they should be kept as close as possible to that temperature range. Once the seeds germinate, the plants should be ready for moving to a pot in about a month.

The desert rose can be propagated from branch cuttings, but the plants often fail to develop the characteristic (and highly desired) bulbous stem


Repot as needed, preferably during the warm season. To repot a succulent, make sure the soil is dry before repotting, then gently remove the plant from the pot. Knock away the old soil from the roots, making sure to remove any rotted or dead roots in the process. Treat any cuts with a fungicide and antibacterial solution. Place the plant in its new pot and backfill with potting soil, spreading the roots out as you repot. Leave the plant dry for a week or so, then begin to water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.


Adenium belongs to the genera Apocynaceae, which is native to Africa, the Middle East, and Madagascar. The desert rose (A. obesum) is the only Adenium found in wide cultivation, although it has been hybridized extensively to obtain different flower colors, including orange, white, striped and the traditional red.

Grower’s Tips

These are not difficult plants to grow well, provided they get enough sunlight and warmth. Like all succulents, they cannot tolerate sitting in water. Use a specialized soil mix designed for succulents and cacti.


Cardioactive steroids and cardiac glycosides throughout entire plant. Hongheloside A, D, E and F; digitalinum verum, somaline, digitalinum verum hexacetate, digitalis like glycosides


Severe gastrointestinal upset, Vomiting, diarrhea, obvious abdominal pain, cardiac abnormalities, decreased body temperature, anorexia, inactivity, bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia/fibrillation and heart block, Na+/K+ ATPase inhibition, increased intra-cellular Ca2+ leading to myocardial excitation, death


Desert Rose Succulent PlantA species of flowering plant in the dogbane family, Adenium obesum (Desert Azalea, Mock Azalea, Sabi Star, Impala Lily, Kudu Lily) has long been used as a poison. Native to the Sahel regions, south of the Sahara (from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan), and tropical and subtropical eastern and southern Africa and Arabia, the Adenium obesum can now commonly be found in homes and garden centers for its colorful violet/red flowers. In ancient Africa clear up until the 1980’s, various tribes would use the twigs, bark and sap of the plant to produce a powerful toxin for hunting. This was generally accomplished by pulverizing the twigs and bark into a putty, then boiling with water over an open fire until all that remained was a paste like substance, which they would then dip their arrowheads into. Surprisingly powerful, these poison arrows could bring down large game. The plant was and still is an important component of traditional medicine. In Somalia the roots are mashed then boiled in water to make nose drops for a stuffed up nose. In Sahel another decoction is used to treat venereal diseases and as a lotion to treat skin diseases and kill lice. The latex of the plant is also used for tooth decay and as a disinfectant for septic wounds. In Kenya the bark is used as an abortifacient and chewed as a primitive form of “plan B” to induce abortion. The stems are also powdered and applied to livestock such as camels and cattle to kill skin parasites.


As stated above, Adenium obesum has been intentionally decocted to create poisons capable of bringing down large game. As such it should be considered deadly and animals should be prevented from having access to it. Author L.P.A. Oyen of Plant Resources of Tropical Africa, known by its acronym PROTA wrote to following in regards to the plants toxic and potentially beneficial effects on the body:

In Adenium obesum, the presence of some 30 cardiotoxic glycosides has been demonstrated, which act in a similar way as digitalis from Digitalis. Digitalis acts upon the Na+K+-ATPase enzyme that regulates the concentrations of Na+ and K+ ions in body cells and so also modifies the Ca++ concentration. In low doses, it is used to treat congestive heart failure (CHF) and heart rhythm problems (atrial arrhythmias), but in high doses, it leads to systolic heart failure and death.The ethanol extract of the roots slows down the growth of Bacillus subtilis, but has not shown activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus or Candida albida. Extracts from the root have shown a cytotoxic effect against several carcinoma cell lines. The aqueous stem bark extract is a potential acaricide as it shows high toxicity on all stadia of development of the ticks Amblyomma spp. and Boophilus spp.

How Bad Is It?

Although the plant is described as  extremely distasteful  and it is unlikely that a pet could tolerate consuming large quantities, it only takes a small amount to be lethal. Induce vomiting (the vomitus should be considered toxic and may result in additional intoxication and should be handled as a toxic substance), Gastric Lavage to remove any undigested plant matter, Seek Emergency Veterinary Treatment. Medications to counteract the effect on the heart may be necessary. In many cases, even with prompt veterinary treatment, the animal will still die.

The roots and stems contain the same glycosides and in similar amounts. Oleandrigenin and some of the glycosides derived from it have cytotoxic effects and are being studied as potential components of  anticancer  drugs.

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One comment

  1. Hi Cherrice I am looking for different colored Desert Roses. Please let me know when you get more in. Thanks Nancy

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