By Patricia BIanca S. Taculao

There are some people who prefer the beauty of symmetry in things. They find straight lines and well-proportioned shapes to be visually-pleasing. Nature is filled with such symmetry. 

One striking example are stapeliads (Stapeliae), which are considered stem succulents of varying degrees. Most of the species resemble cacti even if they are not closely related. They are characterized by flowers that have five symmetrical and colorful petals. 

Paul Adrin Pinto, the owner of a livestock business, enjoys growing this certain plant because of its aesthetic aspect. He even gave the stapeliads under his care a new nickname: “morning stars.”

Stapeliads are considered as the ‘Orchids of the Succulent World.’

“I gave them the name because they bloom early in the morning and they look beautiful when the natural sunlight highlights the flowers’ colors,” Pinto said. 

His plants came from different countries such as Chile, Brazil, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and even from trading locally with his fellow collectors. 

According to Pinto, the flowers of stapeliads are very unique as compared to other plants.  It is even dubbed as “The Orchids of the Succulent World.” 

“I like how the flowers are composed of different coronal structures,  colors, and feather-like hairs. Though some blooms have a pungent or bad odor that attracts flies and other insects for pollination, while some have a smell like overripe fruits, and some are neutral in odor,” he said. 

Caring for morning stars 

When caring for his morning stars, Pinto focuses on potting, watering, and sunlight exposure among other factors.

Stapeliads must be planted in mediums that have good drainage.

In potting, he advises that the media must have good drainage and the soil should consist of 50 to 60 percent pumice or perlite, a few organic materials like decomposed rice hulls,  carbonated rice hulls, and  loam soil. 

“I just adjust the percentage of inorganic materials depending on the demand of the variety.  In my experience many species or varieties do not want to be planted in too big pots except for those that grow faster, so I only use small shallow pots,” he said. 

As for watering, he notes that during its active growth stage, these plants want to be water frequently so he does not have to wait for the soil to be completely dried before watering it again. 

Even if it tolerates sunlight well, Pinto advised to put a net over the plants to avoid being dried out.

“Most of my stapeliads are placed outside exposed to sunlight and rain,  but it is safer if you place a layer of net above your plant racks to lessen the threat of being burned by intense sunlight,” Pinto said, discussing the sunlight requirements of his morning stars. 

Besides focusing on sunlight, water, and potting, Pinto also secures good air circulation for the plants as it is one key to keep them healthy.   

A love for the unique and symmetric

Pinto started gardening and collecting plants when he was in second year high school. He began by collecting orchids from his relatives along with some cacti and succulents from Benguet.

Pinto also collects cacti among other plants.

“I am always fascinated with the unique features of such plants: their symmetry,  peculiarity, color,  and its hardiness. I also remember when I was still in grade school my father made hanging pots of plants and decorated our front yard,  that instills in my mind that this hobby is cool to do,” he said. 

Apart from his stapeliads, Pinto also owns a few succulent-types like agaves,  aloes,  sansevierias,  euphorbia and cacti. He also collects tillandsia, anthuriums, and few philodendrons.

The owner of a livestock business also collects tillandsias or air plants.

“For an introvert like me, gardening is also one way to feel energized, as well as to meet and talk with other people that have the same interest as mine.  It is also my way of communing with nature, especially this time in a pandemic where activities are limited  and we cannot travel that easily compared to before. Gardening, I believe, helps many people stay sane,  focused and motivated,” Pinto said. 

In growing stapeliads, or morning stars as he calls it, and other varieties that pique his interest, Pinto has his own unique world that boasts of beauty, symmetry, and quirkiness. All of which he enjoys caring for and hopes to grow over time.

Photos courtesy of Paul Pinto.