Orbea variegata, also known as starfish succulent plant, starfish plant, stapelia cactus, starflower cactus, carrion plant, stapelia orbea, or starfish cactus flower, is an extremely beautiful succulent plant that’s easy to care for, as long as you meet its three basic needs!
Whether you want to grow it indoors or out, this succulent plant will thrive with just the right amount of sunlight, water, and love!
Starfish succulent plant is an evergreen perennial plant in the genus Orbea with white-centered rosettes of fleshy leaves that grows well in Sunset’s Climate Zones 6 to 11, where temperatures are mild to warm year-round.
Orbea variegate makes a great addition to any indoor or outdoor succulent garden. It’s not difficult to grow, but there are some tips you’ll want to follow to make sure your starfish succulent plant grows strong and healthy in the right environment.
Origin and distribution
Orbea variegata is a species of flowering plant in the family Crassulaceae, native to southern Mexico and Guatemala. A popular houseplant, it is widely cultivated for its ornamental value as well as for use in floristry, with over 200 cultivars known.
The genus name Orbea was given by Linnaeus to honor his friend Adam Boreau d’Orléans, whose first name was François. The specific epithet is Latin meaning varied. It is commonly called starfish cactus flower or starflower cactus or starfish plant. In Brazil, it is called erva-do-mar or sea grass because of its appearance.
It has also been called starfish due to its resemblance to a sea star when young and flat on top, but only in cultivation; Orbea variegata does not resemble any sea stars that occur naturally in South America.
Orbea variegata propagation
Starflower cactus can be propagated by either seed or by cutting. For faster results, try propagating your star flower from a cutting instead! To propagate by cuttings, cut a section of the mature plant and place it in a shallow soil mixture.
The cutting should be a 5-inch piece of healthy stem with at least one leaf or two leaves attached and remove the rest.
Cuttings should be placed in sandy soil with good drainage, but make sure not to bury them too deep as they need light to survive. Keep them out of direct sunlight until new growth appears, this could take anywhere from 1–3 weeks depending on weather conditions.
Once you notice flowers forming on these plants, they will soon die back and leave behind a fleshy stem to protect their seeds. The best time to collect these seeds is when they have turned brown.
If you choose to grow your star flower from seed, remember that it may take up to 3 years for your plant to reach maturity.
Orbea variegata care information
Orbeas need very little care. They only require average watering once or twice a week, and they will do best in temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s important to note that starfish plants bloom seasonally, which means they won’t be blooming at all times of the year. If you live in a warmer climate where Orbeas have no chance of frost, you can keep them outside throughout your growing season.
Orbea variegata love lots of light, while others appreciate a little shade. Consider how much direct sunlight your orbeas will receive, and whether your site has even lighting conditions across its location. Starfish cactus flowers need at least 4 hours of full sun each day to thrive but will withstand part shade conditions well.
Orbea variegata requires soil that drains well and has an alkaline pH. If you are not sure about your soil’s composition, it is best to consult with a local nursery on soil choice. Soil should be sandy loam with a mixture of topsoil, peat moss, and organic compost added as needed. Avoid using potting mixes containing vermiculite or perlite. The potting mix should be moist but never soggy or waterlogged.
Since Orbea variegata require little water, they are often referred to as xerophytes which means dry plants. In other words, they like being dry.
When watering your Orbea variegata, make sure that you allow them to dry out between watering. If you notice any shriveling of leaves then you know it’s time for a drink.
Also, be careful not to overwater your plants because it can cause root rot. The best way to determine if your plants have been overwatered is by feeling their soil with your fingertips; if it feels wet then wait a few days before watering again.
The first step to planting any succulent is to make sure it has what it needs to thrive. Since most succulents are native to arid climates, they’re accustomed to receiving small amounts of water and little nutrients. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything special for them!
If your Orbea variegata are growing in containers, fertilize at least once a month with all-purpose fertilizer diluted by half. A good rule of thumb is to use 1/4 cup per plant every month.
Starfish succulents are most comfortable when temperatures are between 65–75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a warmer climate, make sure to place your plant in an area that is well-ventilated and out of direct sunlight.
Also, keep in mind that starfish plants can be quite sensitive to temperature changes; if you plan on moving it outdoors for summer, make sure to gradually expose it to more sun over a period of several days.
In addition to normal watering, ensure that your Orbea variegata receive adequate humidity. If possible, mist or drench your orbeas at least once a day and make sure they are planted in a location where they will receive decent air circulation; not only does humidity help induce flowering, but it also helps prevent rot.
The ideal humidity range is 40-60% relative humidity. In other words, 40-60% of the air in your home should be water vapor.
Keep your Orbeas looking their best by pruning them once a year in late spring. This process removes dead leaves and tips of branches to keep them from getting too thick. A pair of sharp garden shears work great for most succulents, but if you have particularly thick growths, you may want to get a small pruning saw.
The main thing is not to cut any part of your plant off at ground level; that’s how they store water. If you see roots growing out of a stem or trunk, don’t worry about it, they won’t hurt anything. To encourage more branching and make your plants look fuller, pinch off tips as needed throughout the summer months.
When to repot
Once an orbea variegata outgrows its pot, it’s time to repot. To determine when a plant needs repotting, pull back on a branch, it should be sturdy and not bend. If you have multiple plants growing in one pot, move only one at a time; orbeas don’t respond well to transplanting.
Move slowly and carefully to avoid disturbing roots. Use a sharp knife to cut away any dead roots from around your plant’s root ball. Use your hands to loosen up any compacted soil inside of your container before removing it from your old pot.
Your new container can be slightly larger than your old one, but try not to overdo it. Orbea variegata like their soil tight around their root balls so they don’t dry out too quickly.
The starfish succulent plant is a succulent that will go dormant from fall to spring. This means that it will lose its leaves and store water in its roots, stems, and lower trunk so it can survive during periods of drought or cold weather.
During dormancy, watering should be minimal to allow adequate storage of water for winter. If you notice some new growth after about 4 weeks of dormancy, begin regular watering again and resume feeding when new shoots are 1-2 inches tall.
You can also take your orbea variegata out of dormancy by moving it into a brighter location, increasing water and fertilizer applications, and providing supplemental lighting.
However, if you choose to do so, keep an eye on your plant as over-watering may cause root rot which can kill your plant. Once your plant begins growing normally again after being put back into active growth mode, continue with normal care such as fertilizing every two weeks with liquid fertilizer and keeping the soil lightly moist at all times.
Orbea variegata flower & fragrance
Orbea variegata bloom from winter to spring with clusters of funnel-shaped pink and white flowers. Some Orbeas feature an unusual fragrance, while others have no scent at all. However, all Orbeas have succulent, fleshy leaves.
Many flower colors exist within a single species of Orbea; in fact, there are roughly 250 varieties of Orbeas, which means there are just as many colors! They can be anywhere from pale lavender to bright scarlet and nearly every color in between.
Orbea variegata prefers slow-growing, but well worth it. Grows 3-6 inches per year and has a lifespan of 10-15 years. Requires full sun exposure. Once established, thrives without water for up to six months! (but does best with regular watering in hot weather).
Can withstand frost but only if kept dry. Can be grown indoors as long as there is ample sunlight exposure.
Orbea variegata are very well known for their resilience, and they’re also non-toxic. Orbeas contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause irritation to skin and mucous membranes and may be lethal if ingested by pets or children in high doses.
As a precautionary measure, it is advised to keep young children away from all plants until they are old enough to understand that a bite-sized piece is not suitable for swallowing.
USDA hardiness zones
Orbea variegata thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. In areas with colder climates, you can grow Orbea variegata as a houseplant. When growing it indoors, place it near a sunny window that receives plenty of light.
The plant is tolerant of low light conditions but will not grow well under fluorescent lights or other artificial lighting. Allow its soil to dry out between waterings; if you notice your plant wilting, allow it to dry out for one to two days before watering again.
Pests, diseases, and problems
These ornamental plants can fall victim to aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, whitefly, and root rot. Poor watering practices can lead to root rot. If not pruned regularly and properly, starfish succulents can become too large for their pots or may develop black edges on their leaves.
They should be repotted only when necessary, every two to three years in general, and have a well-draining soil mix that contains plenty of compost or other organic matter.
Starfish plants are easy to grow, but they require a great deal of sunlight. Always make sure you place them in areas with enough light so that their leaves can absorb it and turn it into energy.
This plant requires little maintenance, but be careful with its soil so that it doesn’t dry out. Make sure to check on your starfish every few days to ensure everything is staying healthy and put a little more water in if needed.