Is a Desert Rose a Cactus? (Cactus or Succulent)

Is Cactus Soil Good for Desert Rose?

Despite its name, the Desert Rose is not a rose at all but rather a succulent. The plant’s common name is a misnomer—it was named for its coloration, which resembles that of the wild rose, and for its native habitat.

The legend of the Desert Rose’s origin begins with its namesake: A woman named Mary Magdalene traveled from Judea to the coast of Israel to find Jesus after his resurrection. Along her way, she came across a bush known as the “Shroud of Turin,” which was said to bear miracles and quickly grew when placed in water or planted in soil.

 Mary Magdalene took some leaves from the Shroud of Turin and stored them in her pocket. When she reached the shore, she discovered that it had rained and the leaves had sprouted into full-sized desert roses.

Is Desert Rose a Cactus or Succulent?

The Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) has been called a “cactus,” but that’s not really accurate. Cacti are actually succulents—plants that store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. The Desert Rose is related to the Oleander and belongs to the dogbane family, which is similar to milkweed. Their leaves are thick, leathery, and shiny; their flowers are tubular and have five petals. 

Common nameDesert rose, Sabi star, mock azalea, impala lily

What Type of Soil Is Best for Desert Rose?

Desert rose plants will thrive in soil that is naturally dry, meaning it drains well and has very few nutrients. Many gardeners choose to use a cactus mix for their desert rose plant, which is designed to be both low-maintenance and easy on the environment. 

The soil should have a neutral to acidic pH, ideally hovering right around 6.0. While many gardeners who are growing their desert roses outdoors may not worry about the exact pH, those growing their plants indoors should keep the soil in this pH range for best results.

How Big Do Desert Roses Get?

The plant can grow to be over five feet tall, but it’s the caudex that people are most interested in: what does it look like? How big does it get? And how do you care for it?

It’s up to you to decide if your desert rose will be a small shrub or a sprawling tree, but if you’d like to know how much the caudex will grow over time, consider these facts:

Desert roses can reach up to five feet tall, but they don’t necessarily need to be pruned. In fact, pruning them is only necessary if your architecture depends on a certain size or shape of the plant.

Is Desert Rose Poisonous?

The Desert Rose is one of the most toxic plants found in the United States. Its sap can cause skin irritations, rashes, and burns. The sap can also cause irritation inside the mouth, stomach, and intestines if ingested. Ingestion can lead to vomiting, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, and lethargy. A single leaf can cause severe problems when ingested by children or pets.

Symptoms of ingestion may take up to 12 hours to appear. Long-term effects include lethargy, weakness, poor circulation, slow heart rate, and respiratory problems. Seek urgent medical attention for any ingestion.

How Do You Take Care of a Desert Rose Cactus?

The Desert Rose thrives in full sun with regular watering in the summer. When temperatures drop to 55 degrees or lower, you should cut back on watering quite a bit. 

Using a terra cotta pot is ideal since this allows water to drain quickly. Use a cactus mix when re-potting and take care not to use a too-large pot.

 The Desert Rose is susceptible to root rot, so make sure that the soil never becomes soggy. 

Watch for pests and fungus, and be sure to prune out any damaged parts of the plant.

When it comes time to repot your Desert Rose, do so during the spring or early summer (March through June). When repotting your Desert Rose, be sure not to place it into a pot that is much larger than your current one. 

The roots of the Desert Rose will grow out of control otherwise! Place your Desert Rose in a well-draining soil mix with high levels of peat moss.

 Use sterilized soil and make sure that there are holes in the bottom of the pot for adequate drainage.

What Does a Desert Rose Cactus Look Like?

The Desert rose is a cactus that looks like a bonsai. The plant’s thick trunk stores water during times of drought, and its shiny, dark green leaves add to the visual appeal. But what really attracts attention are the showy, trumpet-shaped flowers that appear in festive shades of pink, white, purple, and red.

What Happens If You Touch a Desert Rose Plant?

The Desert Rose is succulent, meaning it has fleshy leaves and stems. It also happens to be one of the most poisonous plants you can find in Arizona, according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Containing thorns, spines and leaves that cause painful skin irritation, this plant is not something you would normally touch or handle. 

Symptoms of touching a Desert Rose include a slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, lethargy, dizziness, and stomach upset. This can lead to death if left untreated. If you see someone with these symptoms after coming into contact with this plant, seek urgent medical attention for any ingestion.

Can a Desert Rose Be a Houseplant?

You can keep desert roses as houseplants or outdoors in your yard. The hardy plants thrive in warm climates, but you can still grow them indoors with a few special considerations.

Where Is the Best Place to Plant a Desert Rose?

  • Desert roses are unique, low-maintenance plants that make great additions to the garden, but their specific needs vary depending upon where you live. If you live in a climate with mild winters and lots of sunshine, your rose should be fine in full sun. On the other hand, if you live somewhere with cold winters and infrequent sunshine, your rose will need some protection from freezing temperatures and full sun. Some people plant their desert roses in pots and move them to a sheltered position during the winter months.
  • The most important thing is to give your rose the right amount of water and fertilizer. In general, desert roses need a thorough watering once every week or two during the spring and summer growing season. During this time, they also need regular applications of high nitrogen fertilizer, such as 15-5-10 or 10-10-10. The rest of the year, desert roses require less water; in fact, if it gets too cold for you to water your desert rose regularly, it’s probably best to withhold water completely until spring.
  • In general, desert roses prefer alkaline soil (soil with a pH above 7) but can tolerate acidic soil (soil with a pH below 7). They are very tolerant of heat and dry conditions

How Long Does Desert Rose Live?

The desert rose, or Adenium obesum is a flowering deciduous tree native to East Africa. Its Latin name “obesum” means “obese” or “fleshy,” referring to its thick trunk and branches. The desert rose blooms in the summer with large, light-pink flowers that are about 2 inches wide.

Barely growing 10 feet tall, it can live for up to 500 years! The leaves are dark green and shiny and curl up at night. Desert roses are fairly drought-tolerant, but they like well-drained soil.

What Is Desert Rose Good For?

Desert Rose is known to be helpful with travel sickness and nausea. It can also aid in the treatment of disorders related to the prostate. It can strengthen the bones and help with any issues with the muscular or skeletal systems. 

Desert Rose Onyx is also known to help with depression, negative thoughts, and mood swings. It can help you release anger, fear, and anxiety. It is helpful in helping you tackle some of your more serious obstacles in life by keeping you healthy, peaceful, and happy.

Can Desert Rose Survive Winter?

In late fall or early winter, a desert rose (Adenium obesum) will start to droop and lose its leaves. 

At this point, many gardeners assume the plant is dead and begin watering the plant to encourage it to grow. This is a mistake. Desert rose is most cold-tolerant when it is dormant and kept completely dry.

 It enters dormancy when night temperatures drop below 50 ºF. The plant stops growing and loses its leaves. It then patiently waits for spring. 

If you see your desert rose dropping leaves, STOP WATERING THE PLANT! The only time you should water your desert rose is if you live in a frost-free area where temperatures do not dip below 45 ºF at night.

In addition to stopping watering, you can also help your desert rose to survive winter by protecting it from the cold.

You can either dig up the plant and store it in a frost-free location or leave it in its pot but wrap it in burlap or bubble wrap.

 Keeping plants that are not hardy in winter indoors with the lights on will also keep them growing longer into the fall and delay dormancy.

Can I Cut Back My Desert Rose?

The desert rose (Adenium obesum) is a succulent that can be pruned year-round. Pruning a desert rose in the fall, however, may promote the growth of more new stems and blooms.

Pruning a desert rose will promote branching. Branches that have no leaves or blossoms can be removed at any time. 

Thorns should not be cut if they are causing injury to people or pets.

 Generally, only dead wood should be cut away, but live wood can also be pruned for shape.

 An exception is when the plant is being grown for its flowers; prune dead wood away to improve air circulation around the developing buds to ensure good flowering

How Often Does a Desert Rose Bloom?

Desert roses typically bloom for several weeks throughout spring and summer. With proper care, some new and improved cultivars may bloom year-round. Again, be patient.

How Often Should You Water a Desert Rose?

The desert rose needs very little water in the winter. It’s a succulent plant that can tolerate long periods without being watered. In the spring, you’ll want to water it once a month. If you tend to forget about watering your plants too often, a desert rose won’t require as much attention as some other types of plants.

What Does a Desert Rose Symbolize?

The desert rose is an intriguing plant with a myriad of fascinating, and sometimes conflicting or contradictory, meanings in the cultures that it has touched. In fact, the plant is native to China and other parts of Asia. 

The real Chinese name for the plant is fu-gui-hua, which translates literally to “wealth and prosperity flower.” 

The idea behind this name is that the size of the swollen stem indicates wealth and prosperity. 

The larger the swollen stem base, the more wealthy and prosperous you will be. 

It is believed that this root swelling indicates fertility as well. This interpretation of the desert rose’s symbolism makes sense considering its common names in other languages such as Persian “gol-e-gol” (rose of plenty), Turkish “pamuk agaci” (cotton rose) and Greek “kopton” (swelling).

Many people believe that picking a desert rose will bring bad luck. However, others believe that if you are able to pick a desert rose unharmed by knife or thorn, then you will gain good fortune or financial security.

Is Desert Rose Toxic to Dogs?

The desert rose is also known by the common names of impala lily, kudu lily, desert azalea, mock azalea and sabi star. Scientifically, this flower belongs to the Apocynaceae family with the full scientific name of Adenium obesum. 

The entire desert rose is toxic if ingested by your dog, even the sap it produces. 

It is recommended that you do not bring this plant into your home unless you are familiar with its toxic properties and are willing to take on the responsibility of keeping it out of reach of your pets.

How Fast Does a Desert Rose Grow?

The adenium desert rose (or the Adenium obesum) is a slow-growing succulent plant that can grow to be more than 4 feet tall. These plants can take up to 3 years to reach maturity, but they are relatively long-lived, with some specimens living over a century.

Why Are My Desert Rose Leaves Turning Yellow and Falling Off?

There are several reasons why your Desert Rose may have yellowing leaves followed by dropping leaves: under-watering, over-watering, disease, or even environmental factors like too much wind or not enough sun. This guide will cover proper watering and how to spot the signs of each of these issues.


During the plant’s growing season, provide a thorough watering whenever needed. 

If your Desert Rose stays dry for an extended period, the result is yellowing starts followed by dropping leaves. This can be easily avoided by following proper watering guidelines.

 The first sign of this problem is wilting leaves, which then turn yellow and drop off if you don’t intervene. 

To tell if your plant needs water, stick your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If you feel moisture at that level, then you don’t need to water yet;

Do Desert Roses Like Coffee Grounds?

A common myth is that roses love coffee grounds. In fact, they actually love them a little too much. Coffee grounds high in nitrogen can burn the roots of your roses, so it’s important not to add them right next to your plants.

 Roses prefer slightly acidic soil, which is why coffee grounds are a bad idea right next to the plant.

The best place to put your coffee grounds is far away from your garden, or even outside your yard on the edge of your property. 

Adding coffee grounds to the soil outside will help fertilize the surrounding plants, and they’ll be far enough away from your garden that they won’t burn it. 

To keep them from being an eyesore, try mixing them with bark mulch instead of just leaving them on top of the soil so they don’t show up as much.

Anwar Hossain

My name is Anwar Hossain. I am a cactus lover, researcher, and cactus blogger.

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