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Desert rose: plant care, propagation & the most beautiful Adenium plants

Despite its hardy nature, the desert rose (Adenium) blooms with an abundance of elegant flowers. Discover all there is to know about this drought-loving plant.

Flowering pink adenium plant
The desert rose’s flowers and stems make a stunning feature [Photo: Somkiat/ Shutterstock.com]

Desert roses form the most unusual stem shapes and flower in a range of colours from red to pink to white, depending on the variety. Here is our guide to the most beautiful varieties with tips on how to care for this undemanding succulent.

Desert rose: origin and characteristics

Adenium is a genus of plant found naturally in parts of Africa as well as on the Arabian Peninsula. It belongs to the dogbane family (Apocynaceae) and like other members of this group, contains a characteristic milky sap. The desert rose is a succulent that stores water in a so-called caudex. This is the term used to describe the kind of swollen trunk between the root and the stems. The caudex can be shaped and developed in different ways, making it look very decorative.

The swollen trunk makes the evergreen shrub more tree-like in appearance. It can reach heights of up to five metres in nature, but when cultivated indoors, the Adenium houseplant can grow anywhere between 30 cm to 3 metres in height.

These desert rose’s evergreen leaves are oval, thick, and dark green in colour. But it is not just their interesting stem shapes and evergreen leaves we find intriguing: their delicate flowers create a real contrast. Desert rose plants will begin flowering from April until July and can flower in a wide array of colours, from white to purple. As a result of breeding, some varieties will even bloom with double flowers.

Desert rose swollen trunk
The desert rose plant stores water in its caudex [Photo: Samsujosssss/ Shutterstock.com]

The most beautiful Adenium species and varieties

There is still some disagreement about the exact number of desert rose species and varieties. Some believe that is only one species of desert rose, namely Adenium obesum. All other kinds of desert rose are, when following this line of thinking, subspecies. Others believe, however, that the different kinds are their own distinct species. Whether a separate species or a subspecies, all of the following desert roses are perfect for keeping as ornamental houseplants.

  • Adenium obesum: The common desert rose, as mentioned above, is believed by some to be the true desert rose. The flowers of this species come in many colours. Typically, the inside of the flower is lighter than the outside, which creates a pretty gradient effect.
Common desert roses in rocky desert
In the wild, Adenium obesum can grow up to five metres tall [Photo: Ovchinnikova Irina/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Adenium arabicum: The Adenium arabicum, also known as elephant’s foot or Adan bush, looks very similar to Adenium obesum, but is smaller in stature. If you want to cultivate a desert rose as a bonsai, this species is the best choice.
Adan bush bonsai tree
The Adenium arabicum can be cultivated as a bonsai [Photo: wuanxiang/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Adenium multiflorum: As the name suggests, this desert rose variety has especially impressive blooms. It is also more compact than other varieties; in the wild it only grows up to three metres high.
Pink-red flowering adenium multiflorum
Adenium multiflorum has especially splendid flowers [Photo: Rome Loots Photography/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Desert rose ‘Snow White’: This stunning desert rose variety blooms in bold white and has double flowers.
Snow white desert rose double flower
Desert roses can bloom with white and sometimes double blooms [Photo: Soraya Plaithong/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Desert rose ‘Golden Dragon’: The ‘Golden Dragon’ desert rose forms unusual yellow flowers.
Yellow flower of golden dragon desert rose
Desert roses, such as the ‘Golden Dragon’, can also bloom in yellow [Photo: pittaya/ Shutterstock.com]

Cultivation, location and soil

Adenium is a very undemanding, low-maintenance houseplant. To enjoy your own desert rose, you do not have to buy a ready-made plant; it is also possible to grow the desert rose from seed. When grown from seed, the caudex of the small plants is usually better developed than with offspring propagated by cuttings.

To grow desert roses from seed, spread the desert rose seeds on a growing medium in spring and cover with soil. This layer should be a maximum of one centimetre thick. Keep the soil moist and place the container in a warm and bright place with temperatures around 20 to 25 °C. The first seedlings can appear after just one week and are then transplanted within a few weeks. When the first pairs of leaves appear, you can transplant the small desert roses. When doing this, cover the part of the caudex where most of the roots are located with soil. You can also leave a slightly larger part of the caudex on the surface and simply cut off the fine upper roots. A shallow pot encourages a larger caudex and prevents the plant from becoming too elongated.

Summer desert rose outdoors
In summer, the desert rose likes to be outside where it gets more sunlight [Photo: Rembolle/ Shutterstock.com]

The desert rose needs a location that is warm and very sunny to thrive, south-facing windows are perfect for these plants as long as you water them consistently. Temperatures of around 20 °C are ideal, though they do tolerate warmer temperatures. Dry air is also no problem for these desert plants. As soon as the temperatures reach double figures in summer, you can put the desert rose outside. Outdoors, Adenium plants can receive more light, providing the best conditions for healthy, albeit slow, growth.

To create the right conditions for the plant’s root area, make sure the soil is permeable, and the pot has a drainage hole. As with most plants, a drainage layer of coarse material such as pebbles on the bottom of the pot is recommended. When planting, use a mixture of two-thirds potting soil and at least one-third quartz sand, to increase the soil’s permeability.

Desert rose care

If you are looking for an easy-care houseplant, the desert rose is just the plant for you. If you provide the right level of warmth and dryness, your plant should be happy and healthy.

Pruning, watering and fertilising desert rose plants

The most important thing when watering the desert rose is to avoid waterlogging. Make sure to remove all the water that drains into the saucer after watering, and water only when the soil feels dry. In any case, the desert rose tolerates being too dry better than too wet. In winter, watering can almost be completely stopped. If it gets too cold and there is little watering, the desert rose goes into a dormant phase and will shed its foliage. But there is no need to worry, it will then sprout again the next spring.

Desert rose being watered
Adenium plants need very little water [Photo: wing-wing/] Shutterstock.com]

No fertiliser is needed during the desert rose’s winter dormancy, but do fertilise the plant during its growth period. This growing season is from March to October, during which time you should fertilise about once every four weeks. If available, use a cactus or houseplant fertiliser at half the normal dosage. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food is suitable for almost all indoor plants. Besides the essential nutrients nitrogen and potassium, it also contains microorganisms that support healthy root growth.

There is no need to prune your desert rose, as it grows very slowly anyway. However, if you want your desert rose plant to have a specific shape, pruning is possible. That being said, the desert rose will sprout again at the pruned point. The best time to prune Adenium plants is after their flowering has fully stopped, otherwise, you may accidentally cut off the flower buds that have not yet fully formed.

You can also repot the desert rose after it has flowered. However, it is only necessary to repot Adenium plants every few years once their roots have grown out of the bottom of the pot.

New shoots on pruned desert rose
After pruning, the desert rose will resprout [Photo: Attapon Thana/ Shutterstock.com]

How to treat yellow leaves and leaf loss

Is your desert rose losing leaves, or are they turning yellow? Do not worry, below are different maladies that affect Adenium plants and what causes them.

  • Yellow leaves: By stopping watering, the desert rose will enter a winter dormancy, where its leaves will turn yellow and fall off. At other times, however, too much or too few nutrients or root rot due to waterlogging can trigger leaf change.
  • No blooms: Your desert rose plant is not flowering? For abundant flowering in spring, winter dormancy is crucial. If desert roses don’t properly overwinter, the plants’ blooms and leaves may not develop properly.
  • Foliage loss: It is quite normal for the desert rose as a houseplant to lose its leaves in winter if it is no longer watered. Foliage loss can also occur in the cold season if the plant gets too little light. However, if the leaves fall off in spring or summer, there may be a problem with the plant care.
  • Pests: The desert rose is rarely affected by diseases or pests. Though, spider mites or mealybugs particularly like the dry air in winter and can affect the otherwise resilient succulents. In case of an infestation, wash the Adenium plants carefully but thoroughly.
Desert rose with yellowing leaves BU:
Yellow leaves can result from mistakes in care [Photo: Ibrafaislz/ Shutterstock.com]

How to propagate desert roses: seeds, cuttings and more

Desert roses can be propagated from both seeds and cuttings. The main advantage of using seeds is the stronger development of the caudex.

Propagating desert rose plants from cuttings should always be done in spring or summer. For this, use shoots with no flowers but with at least two pairs of leaves. Once you have selected a shoot, cut it with a sharp cutting tool and let it dry for one to two days. Then put the cutting in growing soil and keep it warm and slightly moist.

Using your own seeds is also a great way of propagating this succulent. Adenium seeds ripen between July and August and are contained in elongated, brown capsules. You can harvest and save seeds from these capsules. Once collected, sow these seeds straight away, as the germination capacity is highest with fresh seeds. You can find out how to sow the seeds in the section on growing, soil and location above.

Young adenium seedlings
Desert rose plants can be propagated via seeds or cuttings [Photo: Tar LP/ Shutterstock.com]

Overwintering Adenium plants

Winter dormacy is crucial for desert rose plants to flower the following year. In the cold season, the sun-loving succulent does not get enough light for growth anyway and naturally falls into a dormant phase.

It is important, however, that the temperature does not drop below 15 °C even in winter. During the cold season, do not fertilise Adenium plants and water only very sparingly. During winter dormancy, also known as dry dormancy in the case of the desert rose, the succulent will shed its evergreen leaves. After a successful hibernation, flowers and leaves will sprout again abundantly from spring onwards, as soon as watering is resumed.

Adenium plant with no leaves in winter
In winter, the desert rose sheds its leaves [Photo: Pattama somkanay 41032/ Shutterstock.com]

Is the desert rose poisonous?

Due to its milky sap, the desert rose is poisonous. This sap should not come into contact with skin or be consumed as it can cause skin irritation and even poisoning. Wear gloves when working with the plant to protect against this. Keep the desert rose out of reach of children or pets.

Want to discover more ornamental plants like this? Take a look at our article on other flowering succulents, some of which are even hardy.

Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.
Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic