What is a Desert Rose

A tropical evergreen succulent shrub from the dogbane family, the desert rose is a popular garden or indoor plant with striking 2-3 inches wide tubular pink or reddish flowers. Also known by its scientific name Adenium obesum, this plant is native to the Sahel regions as well as the subtropical and tropical regions of Africa, and Saudi Arabia.

Desert Rose

Multiple cultivars and hybrids have been created for different colors of flowers, and attractive caudex. Desert rose, also called as Sabi star, mock azalea, and impala lily is a popular choice to be grown as bonsai as well.

Popular Types and Varieties of Desert Rose

Desert Rose ‘Red Picotee’

Red Picotee Desert Rose

Growing up to 1-3 feet in height, the vibrant red-white flowers of this variety blooms in warm summers, adding life to your summer garden.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10

Desert Rose ‘Yellow Fragrance’

Desert Rose Yellow Fragrance

The yellow lightly fragrant double-flowers develop pronounced pink highlights as they mature. With a thick caudex, this hybrid grows around 1-3 feet, flowering throughout the year if conditions are favorable.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10

Desert Rose ‘Black Fire’

Black Fire Desert Rose

Produces showy dark red to maroon flowers with fiery orange centers, these plants also grow about 3 feet, with excellent sunlight and drought tolerance.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10

Desert Rose ‘Black Widow’

Black Widow Desert Rose

With its gorgeous dark or blackish maroon double flower, these succulents grow up to 1-3 feet and need warm sunny conditions to thrive.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10

Desert Rose ‘Harry Potter’

Desert Rose Harry Potter

Growing between 4-6 feet produces striking red-white flowers with a little yellow at the center, which blooms as long as conditions are favorable.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10-11 and above

Desert Rose ‘Pink’

Desert Rose Pink

Characterized by Solid pink to pink-white flowers, and a small, yet distinct caudex, this variety is suitable for outdoor gardens, and sunny indoor spots.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10

Desert Rose ‘Golden Carrot’

Desert Rose Golden Carrot

Having thick, well-formed caudex, and bright golden double flowers, bordered with red, it is suitable for both indoor and outdoor, as well as for growing as a bonsai.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10 and above

Desert Rose ‘Variegated Double Red’

Desert Rose Variegated Double Red Picture

Growing around 1-2 feet, it produces dark red full double flowers. The white trimmed dark foliage makes it suitable for ornamental gardening even when not in bloom.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 10

How to Grow and Care for a Desert Rose Plant

Desert Rose Plant

Soil requirement: Any well-drained soil, like a sand-soil mix or perlite rowing medium; a quality cactus potting mix would work as well

Seed germination time: Around 1 week (for freshly collected seeds)

Bloom time: Starting from late winter or spring, throughout winter and fall; they can start flowering in the first year of growth

Growth rate: Slow

Choosing the container: The size of the pot plays an important role in determining the growth rate of the plant; so unless you want to transplant the seedlings, choose a container based on how big you want your plant to get. For example, if a plant is kept in a 9-10 inch pot, it will only grow 20-30 inches tall in 30 years, and still remain healthy.

Planting Desert Rose

Growing from seeds

  1. Prepare a container with a proper growing medium and place the seeds in it, covering them well with the potting mix.
  2. Water once daily from below, and once every 3-4 days from above. Make sure to remove the planter from water once the soil is moist instead letting it sit in water all day.
  3. Use a heating pad to keep the container warm, at a temperature between 80° and 85°F
  4. Once the seeds germinate, water the seedlings only from below. It takes around a month for the seedling to be ready for transplanting.

NOTE: If buying the seeds, make sure to get them from a reputed nursery, where the dealer can collect them directly from the seed pods of another plant. Seeds may take a long time to sprout, or not sprout at all unless fresh.

Desert Rose Seed Pod
Desert Rose Seeds

Propagation from Root Cuttings

Even though it is easier to start a desert rose from seeds, many gardeners claim to have had better success with root cuttings.

  1. Collect cuttings around 6 inches long from the top of a fresh branch and let it dry for 2-3 days, before it is ready for planting.
  2. Prepare the soil with a well-draining potting mix, like for growing from seeds.
  3. Stick the cutting end in the soil and water properly (dipping the cutting end into some rooting hormone may help accelerate the process).
  4. Mist the cutting once every day with a spray bottle. Normal watering can also work, as long as you can keep the soil from ever getting soggy.
  5. It takes around 5-6 weeks for the cuttings to take root, after which you may choose to re-pot or transplant them.

    How to Propagate Desert Rose from Cuttings

Propagation from root cuttings also gives you the chance to easily graft different varieties of the plant together to create interesting house plants.

NOTE: Plants grown from root cuttings do not grow the thick caudex at first. It gradually forms below the soil and can be exposed later by gently removing the soil without hurting the roots.

Repotting Desert Rose

As already mentioned, they can grow in the same container for years, adjusting their own size within the available space. It can still be good for the plant to re-pot once every couple of years, providing it with fresh soil, and a larger pot (if you want your plant to grow larger).

They grow equally well outdoors when planted directly in some suitable soil, preferably at a slightly sloping location where there will be no water accumulation, even during heavy rains. However, if you stay somewhere with chilly winters, it is recommended that you keep the plants in containers, even if you want to place them outside. Planting them directly in the soil outside increases the risk of their freezing when it gets cold, while containers make it easier to carry them inside.

Desert Rose Roots

How Often to Water Desert Rose

Even though it is considered a low maintenance plant, according to experts, the desert rose is pretty sensitive abt its watering needs. If you let the soil become too dry, its flowers might drop off, and if the water remains soggy all the time, its roots will rot.

During the dry summers, water once every day when it is cool, like early in the morning, or in the late afternoon. When the rainy season comes, reduce this frequency depending on the amount of rain. The soil should remain moist, but never turn soggy.

Apply the water directly to the soil, avoiding wetting the leaves. Never set the plant in a container of water, or allow any kind of waterlogging at the plant’s base, as it might be harmful to the roots.

Desert Rose Flowers and Caudex

Established plants might not need as regular watering, but still, make sure the soil is never too dry. In winter, think of your desert rose as a cactus, and cut back on watering.

Sunlight Requirement

Being a native of Africa, the plant does extremely well in full sun conditions. It can also survive with bright sunlight only during the morning or afternoon, however, might not flower as heavily and as brightly. But, in warm conditions, like if placed in a warm greenhouse, the plant may remain active and flower throughout the year.

Desert Rose Double Flower

For a houseplant, place it near a window where it can get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. But, make sure to revolve the container every few days, otherwise, the plant might lean towards the sunlight on one side.

Without proper sunlight, the plant will become weak-stemmed and leggy.

In winter, desert rose usually becomes less active, as it cannot tolerate the cold. So, as mentioned above, it is essential to bring them indoors in places where the winter temperature drops below 55°F. Just keep your plant in a warm room, provided with some bright indirect light till it comes out of its resting phase in spring.

Application of Fertilizers

During summer, provide a high-nitrogen water-soluble liquid fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer about once a month. However, stop feeding the plant as winter starts approaching to give it time to prepare for the cold season. Come springtime, once the plant starts to rouse from its winter dormancy, provide a feeding of some diluted fertilizer once every 2 weeks.

You may consider providing one weak feeding around the middle of winter, but some gardeners suggest to skip it as the plant remains semi-dormant throughout the season.

How to Prune or Cut Back Your Desert Rose Plant

Like most ornamental plants, pruning your desert rose before winter can encourage growth and a better shape. Before bringing it inside, cut back any excessive shaggy growth, damaged branches, and dry leaves, as it will also make the resting period more effective while making it easier to handle the plant. The pruned branches can be perfect to be used as cuttings.

Desert Rose After Pruning

How to Get a Desert Rose to Bloom

Being quite sensitive about its water and sunlight requirements, overwatering, and lack of exposure to the sun can make it delay flowering. Also, repotting may sometimes make the plant need a little time to establish its roots in its new habitat. As a result, it might skip blooming for a season.

If your desert rose refuses to produce flowers, make sure it is getting enough direct sunlight, and regular fertilization (especially if it has been re-potted recently). With a lot of direct sun, it should begin to bloom within a short time.

Desert Rose in Ornamental Gardening

The attractive long-lasting flowers are useful for attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and ladybugs when kept outdoors. Being tropical succulents, desert rose plants are amazing companion plants for cacti.

Colorful Desert Rose Image

In warm regions, they are ideal for a showy porch or patio display, as long as it receives a lot of sunlight.

Desert Rose Pests and Diseases

They are usually quite resistant to pests but may be affected by mealy bugs and aphids occasionally. Watch out for tiny white or yellow bugs on your plants, as applying a little white oil to the leaves and stem can get rid of these pests, especially during an early stage of their infestation.

Desert Rose Mealybug Pests
Aphids Yellow Bugs on Desert Rose

Spider mites are another relatively common concern, as the dry conditions are suitable for them. Lightly sprinkling the leaves with a little water occassionally can take care of this problem. Make sure not to overdo it, and don’t let the soil get wet.

Spider Mites on Desert Rose

Gardeners often complain about their desert rose leaves turning yellow, wilting, and finally falling off. The most likely reason for this is overwatering, which makes the soil soggy, leading to root rot, which in turn results in falling off of the leaves, ultimately causing the plant to die. To manage this, stop watering for a week, and once the soil dries off completely, follow a less frequent watering schedule.

Desert Rose Signs of Overwatering Yellowing Leaves

Is a Desert Rose Plant Poisonous

All parts of the plant are highly toxic, both for humans and pets. Ingesting the milky white sap secreted by the plant can actually cause death. In fact, the sap was used by African tribes to poison their arrows for killing large animals, which usually died within two miles of the place where they got shot.