“Fat bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go round” – Queen
I can only assumed that Freddie Mercury was singing about one of my favorite plant genus, the Adenium. And there’s no doubt about it, this plant makes my rockin’ world go round.
The Adenium’s most defining feature is their caudex, or plural caudices, which refers to the fat base/trunk that grows and stores a large amount of the plant’s resources. A caudex can oftentimes can be raised slowly to expose the thick, intricate structure right under the soil line and is one of the reasons why growers fall in love with this plant.
There are several species of Adenium that have been described by taxonomists, and because this genus is heavily hybridized, the taxonomy is unclear. You will find that Adenium obesum and Adenium arabicum are two of the most common and accepted species you’ll find in the trade. Both are known to grow quite vigorously — the obesum often focusing on height (contrary to the name) and the arabicum focusing on caudex growth. Beyond those two species, you’re entering into disputed territory…
Native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the Adenium genus contains anywhere from 5 to 12 different species depending on who’s answering (I’ve even seen some describe only one species with several subspecies — taxonomists, get yourselves together). Depending on your climate, they are either semi-deciduous or evergreen. The plant is also toxic, so be wary of the sap it secretes upon cutting. Now, let’s dive into this fatty..
During the growing season, and assuming there’s optimal light and heat (both high, but not scorching), an Adenium can handle more waterings than your average succulent. That is because the plant can put on impressive growth and a showy set of flowers during the summer. During the fall and winter, the Adenium will wind down it’s growth, and if completely dormant, the Adenium won’t require a drop of water at all. Their caudex is designed to sustain them for long periods of drought.
My recommendation is to stay away from adding a top-dressing to your Adenium. While pretty, my only cases of rotting have been because while using a top-dressing of gravel, which can stifle aeration. If you’re set on adding some gravel, choose a gravel with a large diameter so that there are hollow pockets to increase aeration.
If your soil is built with high inorganic matter, you can and will need to occasionally fertilize for optimum growth. I usually give a decent feeding early in the season at the first sign of new growth. I usually provide a second feeding halfway through the season as they prepare to flower.
During the winter, my Adeniums will often defoliate and literally NOT DO A THING for months at a time. It is critically important that you do not water during this period or else you’re teetering with rot. There are some cases where I’ll give a drink of water to one of mine during the winter if it’s apparent that the caudex is shrinking significantly and only if it’s maintained some leaves, but it’s really not needed.
I’ve heard of many who simply put their caudiciforms in a dark garage for winter. I think it’s most important in this case not to give them any water. They do not need it. They should be in a period of near or complete defoliation. A naked stubby plant.
I think a lot of new growers become really shocked when they see their really cool, chunky plant begin to lose all their leaves and look a bit… sad. Unless it’s rotting, which often looks the same, it should spring back to life in, well, spring. You can usually check if the caudex is rotting by squeezing it. If there is a particularly soft area, you will know. At that point, you can try cutting out the rot (more info on this coming soon).
There’s a couple different ways of propagating the Adenium, but I would really recommend the seed method for optimal caudex growth.
From seed: I LOVE growing these plants from seed, because they reward the grower relatively quickly. This isn’t the case with most cacti, which really test one’s patience. With adeniums, you can often see changes between waterings if they’re experiencing vigorous growth. Here’s what I do for germination.
I usually sow a wide, low container with many seeds (more than what they would normally be comfortable growing in — I usually repot once they have developed roots, which doesn’t take long). The most important thing for germination at this point is high humidity and heat. To accomplish these requirements, I put cling film across the top of the container, which creates a mini-greenhouse effect. Because I live in Texas, I can usually put the seeds in a shady spot outside and there’s usually enough heat to trigger germination. If you don’t live on the surface of the sun, you can also try a grow mat and, with time, you’ll have you’re own series of plant fatties all to your own. Germination should occur between 1-3 weeks.
The seedlings cannot handle harsh direct sun. Dappled sun is fine and once they get older, they can experience more sun. I’ll occasionally have an albino Adenium seedling pop up, only to be burned to pieces, or simply fail to generate any energy and wither away. Natural selection, am I right?
Now, I mentioned you’ll want to propagate the Adenium using the seed method because this is the only way you’ll achieve a properly developed caudex.
Don’t know where to buy healthy seeds? Baetanical has got you covered! Grow your own fat bottomed plant!
By cutting: It is possible to propagate from cuttings with both some advantages and disadvantages. Here’s how to do it.
Find a healthy branch with active growth. Slice using a sterilized blade and place the cutting in a dry, clean place to callus. After about 5 days, it should be ready to stick into some slightly moistened soil. Do not water until you feel the plant has developed roots. You can gently wiggle the new plant to see if it has developed roots.
Propagation by cutting can be good if you want a certain flower color. Seeds, even from properly crossed Adenium, often revert to the classic pink flower, which can be frustrating if you’re hoping for a more exotic color. The major disadvantage, however, is that the iconic caudex will not form from a cutting. The stem will get thicker and more trunk-like, but it won’t develop the winding and beautiful roots to the extent of a seed-grown Adenium.
I’ll be preparing a post on hand-pollination soon because it’s not the easiest thing to do based on their flower structure. Stay tuned..
The Adenium is an incredibly fun genus to work with and is really one of the iconic caudiciforms in the trade. You are often rewarded with an impressive show of flowers, dramatic height, and curiously winding caudices. Really, what’s not to like about this genus? Try them out today!