Aloe africana is a very attractive aloe from the Eastern
Cape which adapts to a wide range of conditions. Aloes are characteristic
of the African continent where most species occur, but are also
found on islands close to Africa such as Madagascar and other adjacent
regions such as the Arabian Peninsula. Due to their strong architectural
features, beautiful flowers and ease of growth, they are popular
all over the world, but mainly grown in subtropical and warm temperate
regions. In colder climates plants are grown as house plants or
africana is a solitary plant, bearing an erect stem up to 2
m high (exceptionally up to 4 m), with a skirt of dry leaves. Its
leaves, crowded in a dense, apical rosette, are gracefully spreading
to recurved, firm linear-lanceolate, up to 0.65 m long, with a grey-green
surface, and its margins armed with small, reddish teeth. Flowers
are borne on an erect, unbranched to branched raceme. Its beautiful
tubular flowers are up to 55 mm long and curved, the latter feature
distinguishing it immediately from close relatives. Its winged seeds
are formed in dehiscing capsules and dispersed by wind. Flowering
time is from winter to early spring (July to September in South
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Aloe africana was grown in Europe from the early part of
the eighteenth century, prior to Linnaeus establishing his binominal
classification system in 1753. It was named by Miller in 1786. The
specific epithet africana pertains to its African origin.
Aloe africana is restricted to the southeastern part of South
Africa, in the Eastern Cape, and is particularly common near Port
Elizabeth, Uitenhage and the lower Gamtoos River. It is mainly confined
to hills and flats, growing in thicket and renosterveld vegetation.
It often grows in association with Aloe
ferox, A. pluridens and
A. speciosa, and hybrids are not uncommon. Soil is sandy and well
drained. The climate is moderate, without frost, and hot and humid
during summers. Rainfall occurs throughout the year, from 600 to
700 mm per annum.
Aloe africana, like most other aloes has tubular flowers
rich in nectar and pollinated by sunbirds.
Growing Aloe africana
Aloe africana is easily propagated from seed sown in spring
or summer. The plants grow slowly and reach the flowering stage
in 4 to 5 years. Sow in a sandy, well-drained potting soil in a
warm, shady position in standard seed trays. Germination takes about
three weeks. Cover with a thin layer of sand (1 to 2 mm), keep moist
and the seedlings can be planted out in individual bags or containers
as soon as they are large enough to handle.
Aloe africana thrives in coastal gardens but also as a pot
or container plant. The plants prefer full sun and windy conditions.
They are tolerant towards other plant species and often share their
habitat with smaller succulent plants. Plants will benefit from
compost or any organic feeding. The plants are not frost tolerant
but can survive light frost. It thrives in a wide range of soil
and even grows well in the winter rainfall Western Cape gardens
where it should preferably be moistened during the dry summer months.
The plants are fairly pest free, but may occasionally be attacked
by the aloe snout weevil. Over-watering will also lead to fungal
infections and rot.
References and further reading
- Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds) 2006. A Checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Reynolds, G.W. 1974. The aloes of South Africa. Balkema,
Cape Town, Rotterdam.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Smith, G.F. 1994. Aloes of South Africa.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Ernst van Jaarsveld