The Slipper Plant or Candelilla (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) is native to the Sonoran Desert of Baja California and Sonora, Mexico. It is a common accent plant in desert and xeriscape gardens here in southern Arizona. This perennial plant can occasionally grow up to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, but it usually stays below 4 feet (1.2 m) in height. Slipper Plant or Candelilla has green, succulent stems and tiny, inconspicuous leaves.
Not only are the fleshy stems shaped rather like slender candle tapers, they are also thickly coated in a type of vegetable wax known as Candelilla (little candle) wax, which is used in candles, cosmetics, chewing gum, polishes, food coatings, dyes, and in many other products. Actually, Candelilla wax is not commercially obtained from this species, but primarily from a related Candelilla plant also in the Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae), Euphorbia Antisyphillitica, which has higher quality wax than Pedilanthus species.
Slipper Plant or Candelilla has wonderfully odd-looking, bird-like, orange flowers. The closed flower buds look like Arabian slippers or bird heads with a reddish beak and an orange crest.
The reddish "bird beak" pushes its way out of the flower as it opens and magically becomes the head of what now looks like a whole bird.
The open flowers remind me of a miniature Raggiana Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea raggiana), with the bundle of anthers as the display plumes. Open Slipper Plant or Candelilla flowers also remind me of hovering hummingbirds, which coincidentally are attracted to the nectar-filled flowers.
The above hummingbird is a female or juvenile Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris), which look quite similar and are much less showy than the males of the species.
Not only do Slipper Plants or Candelillas have interesting candle-like stems and bird-like flowers, these plants are also amazingly easy to grow here in Arizona, requiring little water or care. They are also very easy to propagate by stem cuttings, making these plants quite economical (buy one and get many).