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Tree of the Month - January 2003: Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)
By Ken Schultz
I have owned a desert rose for several years. It was originally purchased at De Moynes Nursery near Ohio Dominican College. I purchased it because it has a very thick trunk, and it flowers. To me it seemed to be related to the jade family, and actually its care is quite similar. The leaves are not quiet as thick and tend to grow near the tips of the branches. The pink flowers are 2” long and are trumpet shaped. While in Hawaii I saw two of them at a bonsai nursery, and much to my surprise it was wired. I have never tried to wire mine as its bark is tender and fleshy. As you might have guessed by now, this plant is a tropical from the desert region of east Africa. In the wild it is a bush that grows approximately 6- 10 feet tall.
In the winter I bring it indoors and keep it on my lighted plant stands in the basement. The book says it needs a rest period and will do well in a bright spot at temperatures between 54 and 61 degrees. During the winter they say to water less and cease fertilizing. In the summer they recommend fertilizing from spring to late summer with liquid bonsai fertilizer (I use the same stuff the rest of the plants get, a 10-10-10 and sometimes a little liquid African violet food).
It is suggested that this plant be repotted every two years, immediately following the rest period. I tend to use a very small pot for the tree size, but the two books that I have in which desert roses are pictured used larger pots. I have picked a larger blue pot for the next repotting. They recommend a 2-2-1 mix of loam, peat and sand. I have used our bonsai mix with some houseplant potting soil mixed in.
Pruning is recommended whenever the branches have reached their desired length. Again they suggest that this be done in early spring, right after the rest period. They warn you not to come into contact with the sap, as it is poisonous. The pruned off branches can be rooted much the same as rooting jade. Allow them to dry out for a few days and then plant them in a 1-1 sand peat mixture to root, keeping the mixture slightly moist.