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Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) is a common name for a species of perennial flowering plant in the botanical Family Apocynaceae. Desert rose is a very popular and highly prized ornamental shrub. The most prominent features of the plant are the swollen, ‘chubby’ and often twisting caudex (thickened stem base), and the tubular, trumpet-shaped, plumeria-like flowers.

The flowers are typically pink or red. There are approximately 5 cms long, and can reach a diameter of nearly 7 cm. Adenium hybrids have flowers in a wider range of colors, including white, yellow, purple and violet. The margins of the petals usually have a stronger hue. Flowers of some hybrids have an edge which is almost black. The color fades towards the throat (floral tube). The leaves are sparse, spirally-arranged, green, ovate, leathery and glossy. The rigid stems taper gradually upwards.

In spite of its name, the desert rose is not a rose. The plant is unrelated to the rose family Rosaceae. The flowers do not resemble the shape of any rose variety. The plant has no thorns either.

The plant is native to tropical Africa (the sub-Saharan regions of eastern and southwestern Africa) and in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula (Oman,Yemen and Saudi Arabia). Other common names of the plant are kudu, mock azalea, impala lily, Sabi star, adeno and chuan chom.

Etymology

The Genus name Adenium is derived from the Latinized Arabic name for the flower, oddaejn. This word is a local geographical reference for the place where this plant was fist found. Some sources mention a linguistic link to the word is Adean, the former name of the region of Yemen. The specific botanical name obesum translates as swollen or obese, and it is an obvious allusion to the shape of the plant’s trunk.

Desert Rose Flower Symbolism

The Chinese name for the desert rose flower is fuguihuafu means rich or abundant, gui is majestic, and hua is a flower. This is a flower of prosperity, or a wealth plant. Like Laughing Buddha’s big belly, the bulging basal stem of the desert rose, too, is perceived as a sacred symbol of fertility, prosperity, abundance and good fortune. Traditionally, the larger the trunk, the greater the wealth and abundance.

Following the principles of feng shui, the desert rose is an auspicious flower for every home. According to a Thai folk belief, one can derive the greatest benefit from the energies of this flower by planting it on a Wednesday, in the southeast part of the residence. In India, the desert rose flower has become widespread and popular in the last fifty years. It is perceived as an auspicious, good luck flower.

Since the desert rose plant is strong and adaptable to harsh climatic conditions, it is a symbol of strength, persistence and resilience. it is also a symbol of hope during the dry times. The red rose plant, be it in its natural habitat or a collector specimen, is highly appreciated for its aesthetics. The desert rose flowers have been compared to crystals of red fire.

Dietz’ reference book ‘The Complete Language of Flowers’ attributes the following symbolic meaning to the desert rose flower: death, delusion, fictional and illusion. In folk believes, such attributes are oftentimes assigned to plants which are poisonous, and the desert rose is no exception to the rule. Namely, the milky sap from the desert rose plant is highly toxic. It has been used as a fish poison and an arrowhead poison by indigenous peoples many African regions, including in Mozambique and South Africa.

Red Desert Rose Meaning

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In the tradition of many Asian countries, including China and Thailand, the brightly colored flowers of the desert rose represent money, good luck and prosperity in all affairs. Thus the most desired varieties of a desert rose plant are those which have reddish or pink flowers.

Pink Desert Rose Meaning

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Pink is the most common color of a desert rose — most of the plant varieties have bright pink petals. The edges of the petals are generally darker, while the interior of the flower is of a much lighter hue (oftentimes white).

The pink desert rose is a commonly kept as a potted plant. It brings peace, happiness and prosperity to the living space. Another symbolic meaning of this flower is rejuvenation. This meaning is derived from the fact that the desert rose flower can thrive in less-than-optimal conditions. The flower rejuvenates itself after a period of hibernation.

White Desert Rose Meaning

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Most white desert rose flowers are not purely white, and their petals include stripes or patterns of a different color. In recent years, some horticulturalists in Asia have been successful in producing white desert rose cultivars. The white color is a symbol of purity and Buddhism in Thailand, of death and the unknown in China, and of the spirit world among many African communities. The meaning of the white desert rose flower is much dependent on the local cultural context. It is yet to be seen whether white desert roses become more popular and demanded in the coming years.

Black Desert Rose Meaning

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Black desert rose flower is a hybrid plant can is typically bi-colored (with petal margins of a differently colored flower). A flower nursery in Thailand has succeeded to develop fully purple-black desert rose hybrids. Since these are relatively new flowers, developed over the last decade, they do not have traditional symbolic significance. The meaning of a black desert rose is currently fluid, and shaped both by commercial branding and popular culture (customer trends). For example, some of the names given to black desert rose cultivars are: ‘Dracula,’ ‘Black Swan,’ ‘Tonight I am Yours,’ and ‘Black Carnival’.

Interesting Facts and Characteristics of the Desert Rose Flower

  • The bulged desert rose roots store water: The swollen stem and branches of the drought-tolerant desert rose plant serves as a storage reservoir, is necessary in the dry Saharan deserts.
  • The ‘sleeping’ desert rose flower: The desert rose is a semi-evergreen plant. It drops its leaves in cold weather, during transplantation or when sunlight is greatly reduced. It can go dormant for several months during winter or dry periods. The dormancy can last from a few weeks up to six months.
  • Plant propagation: The only means of propagation in the wild is by seed. Cutting and grafting are used in gardening and commercial production.
  • The giant desert rose trees of Socotra: In certain climatic conditions, some desert rose varieties can reach height of more than 3 meters. The largest member of the Adenium genus is Adenium socotranum, commonly known as the Aden Rose of Socotra. The massive cylindrical trunk of this giant Adenium socotranum variety can have a diameter of 2.4 meters and a height of 4.6 meters. Socotra is an island in the Indian Ocean, east of the Horn of Africa and south of the Arabian Peninsula. Officially part of Yemen and home to some of the strangest-looking plants in the world, this island has a status comparable to that of the Galapagos Islands.
  • A flower that no goat would touch: On the island of Socotra, goats once decimated much of the native vegetation. The desert rose plants, however, have been safe from the menace. What protects them is their toxic sap, which is poisonous to many animal species. For this reason, pet owners are also advised to keep the necessary precautions if they keep a desert rose plant in their homes. Adeniums are dangeously toxic to horses, dogs and cats. If ingested in large amounts, the plant can be toxic also to humans.
  • Stunning desert rose bonsai: The desert rose is widely grown as a potted plant, and is often used for bonsai, especially the variety Adenium multiflorum. It takes only five years to transform the fast growing seedling into a bonsai tree. The desert rose bonsai has a very attractive appearance and sculptural shape. This is due to the massive swollen roots with are often twisted and form interesting shapes. The shape of the plant is often compared to that of a miniature baobab tree.
  • The European who discovered the desert rose flower: The German Scientist Pehr Forsskal was the first European to discover Adenium in 1762 in Yemen. Soon after, European botanists identified the plant in other regions of Africa, including Kenya and central Tanzania. Forssskal’s discovery happened during an exploration voyage to Africa and India, sponsored by the Danish king.
  • A historical note of the botanical nomenclature: The genus Adenium to which the desert rose flower belongs was established in 1819 by J.J. Roemer and J.A. Schultes.
  • Delicacy of the antelopes: A local variety of the desert rose plant, Adenium obesum var. multiflorum is known under the name impala lily. The plant owes its charming local name to the Impala antelopes, who sometimes nibble this tree.
  • Floral motif on postage stamps: The desert rose flower has been depicted on postage stamps by several countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and Venda.
  • Commercial cultivation: Desert roses are cultivated in flower nurseries and botanical gardens around the world. Some of the best nurseries, specialized in exotic and succulent plants, are found in Thailand and Taiwan. They have produced Adenium cultivars and hybrids with multiple (two or three) layers of petals. Some of those desert rose flowers are bi-color, tri-color, or include striping and complex patterning.
  • The desert rose flower in popular culture: Perhaps the most popular cultural reference to the desert rose flower is found in the 1999 song ‘Desert Rose’ by the British musician Sting. The desert rose is used as a symbol and personification of beauty, lost love and longing.
  • Medicinal use of the desert rose flower: In Oman, Adenium obesum is used to treat joint pain, muscle pain and headaches. Earlier in history, this plant has also been used to treat venereal diseases, skin diseases, septic wounds, tooth decay, nasal infections, and to kill lice. In Kenya, parts of the plant has traditionally been used in powdered form to kill skin parasites in camels and cattle. In Nigeria, desert rose has been used to protect against certain parasitic diseases, including malaria, leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis. Somali traditional medicine produces nose drops from the root of the desert rose plant. These drops are used in the treatment of rhinitis.
  • Conservation status of the desert rose flower: The desert rose plant is not included in the International IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, some countries have classified certain Adenium varieties as either endangered or vulnerable. Among the countries which have taken legal actions to protect their native desert rose varieties are Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. For example, the Adenium swazicum variety is critically endangered in Swaziland, since more than 80% of the species’ habitat has been destroyed by agricultural activities and harvesting for medicinal purposes.

The Best Time to Gift Someone a Desert Rose Flower

This highly unusual, visually stunning flower, is a luxurious gift. It can be gifted to the most picky among the floral connoisseurs, and is sure to impress.

The desert rose flower bring good luck and abundance. This makes them a perfect gift to someone who is starting something new in life — a new career, a new job, or a business venture. When gifted with this in mind, it should preferably be a variety of red or pink flowers.

A desert rose is an excellent boost to those who need a little spell of luck in their lives. It can be gifted to a friend who is about to appear in an exam, a competition, or a job interview.

Desert rose flower can be gifted to families when they move into a new home, with wishes for a stable, resilient, successful, and thriving household.

Black desert rose flowers are still rather atypical and unconventional. Most of these hybrids have names associative of black magic and the dark. This makes them a unique gift to fans of the Goth subculture.

Desert roses are not used as cut or dried flowers. On the one hand, this limits their use as a gift, but on the other, it makes them a lasting and memorable one.