Huernia schneideriana A.k.a Red Dragon Flower (hew-ERN-ee-uh) is from the genus Huernia. This plant included stem succulents from Eastern and Southern Africa, first described as a genius in 1810.
The name is in honor of Justin Heurnius (1587–1652) a Dutch missionary who is reputed to have been the first collector of South African Cape plants.
His name was actually misspelled by the mistake. (instead of Heurnius the genus is named Huernia).
Red Dragon Flower is a beautiful succulent plant that was once thought to be a natural hybrid of Huernia verekeri and Huernia aspera, but is now recognized by some authorities as a legitimate species native to Tanzania.
The genus is considered close to the genera Stapelia and Hoodia. Many species of Huernia have been moved to this genus from their closely related cousins, the Stapelia.
Huernia resemble Stapelia by producing the distinctly scented flowers that lead to the name of Carrion Flower. The smell and the dark red of some types resemble the blood or flesh of dead animals, which attracts the flies that pollinate them.
The green stems have adapted to perform the same function as leaves, with less likelihood of damage from excessive heat and drought.
The green color indicates that they can photosynthesize, making sugar from the presence of light.
They can exist in extremely difficult situations; if a long dry period persists, the stems simply shrivel gradually until the next rainfall.
The sharp looking ‘thorns’ are all show because they are soft, and can’t harm your skin.
Originally the villagers in South Africa used them as a food plant, boiled like a vegetable.
Growing Red Dragon Flower
Indeed, more stapeliads die of fungus than any other species. The most common cause of death is overwatering, particularly in cold, damp conditions which they despise.
Huernias require a potting mix with excellent drainage. A succulent plant mix of 50 percent pumice or perlite, 25 percent peat or organic mulch, and 25 percent sand helps prevent rotting and overwatering.
Roots experience dieback in cool-season dormancy, so plants grow best in shallow containers that allow the soil to dry out quickly. Clay pots further help soil from staying too wet.
An underlayment of coarse gravel below the soil mix also improves drainage. In climates with damp cool summers, a layer of gravel between the plant and the soil mix also helps prevent the stems from staying too moist.
Outdoor plantings do well in raised beds. Huernias prefer bright light or partial shade. In nature, they grow underneath shrubs or other plants. Too much sun causes stems to develop protective reddish or purple pigmentation and can actually scald the stems.
Too little light leads to weak, thin growth with decreased flower production. Huernias grow best between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 and 27 degrees Celsius). Protect them from freezing weather.
Propagating Red Dragon Flower
Soak the blade of a serrated garden knife in a solution of one part all-purpose household bleach to nine parts water.
Cut a 4- to 6-inch portion from the tip of a healthy stem of the donor cactus. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle using a serrated garden knife; cutting the plant at a 45-degree angle prevents water from accumulating in the cut portion of the donor stem.
If you would like, you can pour 1 tablespoon of a rooting hormone powder containing auxin on a sheet of wax paper.
Wipe the blade of the knife with a cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol. This plant will root readily without hormone, as long as you allow it to dry out properly. A week or two is not too much.
Square off the cut end of the cutting with the garden knife and dip the cut end of the cactus in the rooting powder. Position the cutting upright outdoors in a covered area and allow a few weeks to a couple of months for the wound to callus over.
A callused wound has a drawn, grayish appearance and is completely dry.
Pinch off any leaves that grow from the bottom 2 inches of the cutting. Sieve 1/2 gallon of horticultural perlite, 1/4 gallon of coarse river sand and 1/4 gallon of sandy loam through a soil sifter with 1/2-inch apertures into a container and mix.
Place a piece of mesh screen in the bottom of an 8-inch pot and pour the propagation medium inside until it reaches the top. Tamp the propagation medium down with your hand.
Insert the cutting 1/2 to 1 inch deep in the propagation medium. Top dress the propagation medium with about 1/3 inch of fine gravel.
Place the cactus in an area indoors or outside that receives full sunlight and good air flow and has a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water the cactus with distilled water one or two days after planting.
Repotting Red Dragon Flower
Sieve 1 gallon of horticultural perlite and 3/4 gallon of sandy loam into a container after one to two months and mix. Pour the growing medium to within 2 inches of the top of a 12-inch pot with a piece of mesh screen at the bottom.
Scrape away the top dressing in the original pot and carefully scoop the starfish cactus and its root system from the pot using a garden trowel. Place it on top of the growing medium in the 12-inch pot. Spread the roots out laterally and fill the pot to the top with the remaining growing medium.
Cover the growing medium with fine gravel and irrigate the starfish cactus until water drains from the pot. Check the moisture of the growing medium every few days with your finger and water it until water drains from the pot.
Transplant the cactus to a larger pot after one year. Don’t irrigate the starfish cactus during winter.
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