Chennai is an ideal home for these hardy plants as they prefer the sun and require little water, says Hema Vijay

It is curious that this African native with its swollen and unusually shaped stem has become so popular in Chennai. But then, this desert plant has a definite preference for the sun and requires sparse and intermittent watering only. Their unusual structure has made them popular bonsai plants too.

There are many species of Adenium to choose from, including the double-petal variety of Adeniums. It is also possible to save your own seeds from its pods, though they do tend to be carried away by the wind. Meanwhile, Adeniums can also throw up astonishing variations of colour and patterns of flowers through grafting. “It is exciting to wait and watch out for the results of Adenium grafts. Sometimes, I get altogether different colours and patterns”, says Suseela Vergis, who has developed over 80 variants of Adeniums in her garden through grafting techniques in her garden on the ECR.

“Ideally, Adeniums should be watered every alternate day during summer and once in three days in winter; water just enough so that the soil becomes wet, as the plant decays with water-logging”, says Suseela Vergis. For the same reason, the plant is best raised in a soil mixture of one part sand and one part cow dung, that allows for easy and fast draining of water. If you use red earth, chances are that the plant may die due to water-logging, especially during the rainy season. Adeniums need five to six hours exposure to bright sunlight to grow well, which also activates plant’s floral pigments and enhances the color of its flowers.

If raised on the ground, Adeniums can grow to be a small sized tree about three meters tall, but the plant’s beauty is best brought out by continuous pruning, which lets it spread out and grow in a bushy fashion with numerous branches ending in flower buds. Adeniums may be raised in pots too, which naturally restricts their size.

Finally, a word of caution: The sap of the plant could be a contact irritant and an allergen, so be sure to use gloves and to wash your hands after you handle the plants. “Adenium belongs to the Apocynaceae family that includes the poisonous oleander or arali plants. The sap of any part of the Adenium plant is also poisonous if consumed, but the cardio glycosides isolated from it have been used in cardiac care”, says R Pauline Deborah, assistant professor, Dept. of Plant Biology, Women’s Christian College.