Aloe ciliaris var. ciliaris is a small, handsome, climbing
aloe and one of the easiest to cultivate. It belongs to a group
of small shrubby aloes consisting of five species; Aloe ciliaris,
A. commixta, A. gracilis, A. striatula, and A. tenuior.
There are two other varieties of A. ciliaris, namely, A.
ciliaris var. redacta and A. ciliaris var. tidmarshii.
Our variety of this species differs from the others in this group
and in fact from all other Aloe species (about 450) by being
the only true climbing aloe. It is also the fastest growing of all
Aloes, with few exceptions, are confined to Africa and its islands.
They belong to the Aloe family, Asphodelaceae/Aloaceae, and other
well-known members include Gasteria and Haworthia, Astroloba
and Poellnitzia. Aloes are distinguished by their mainly
colourful, cylindrical, tubular flowers and bitter leaf sap. The
leaves of aloes are oblong, tapering, often strap-shaped and occur
in rosettes. The leaves in young plants are always opposite (distichous),
but soon become spiral. Most aloes thrive in cultivation and this
variety is exceptionally easy to grow. Its habitat is the dense
thickets of Eastern Cape, the home of so many large mammals such
as elephant, buffalo and rhino. The generic name Aloe was
established by Linnaeus in 1753.
ciliaris var. ciliaris is sparsely branched, climbing
to 10 m or even higher. The base can sometimes be multistemmed and
with age may become a rounded, swollen caudex up to 150 mm in diameter,
bearing grey bark. Roots are shallow, fleshy and about 5 mm in diameter,
radiating from the swollen base. Stems lying on the ground will
root. Its leafy, elongated stems are 8-12 mm in diameter, initially
green and covered by the amplexicaul, striated leaf bases which
become dry, papery and grey with age. This covering eventually also
erodes, exposing its grey bark. The spirally arranged green leaves
are leathery but softly succulent, linear-lanceolate 50-152 x10-30
mm, bearing small white teeth extending right around the leaf base.
The leaf sap is not bitter as found in so many other aloe species.
The internodes are 15-30 mm apart but the leaves tend to be more
crowded at the ends, forming a loose rosette up to about 150 mm
in diameter. The inflorescence is a simple, ascending raceme, 150-300
mm long, appearing near the branch ends, and racemes are 50-120
mm long. The tubular flowers are 28 x 8 mm. The oblong fruiting
capsule is about 18 mm long. Flowering time is almost throughout
the year but with a peak in spring.
Aloe ciliaris var. ciliaris is widespread in the Eastern
Cape thicket vegetation occurring from Uitenhage in the south to
the Kei River mouth in the north east. Plants are often confined
to dry river valleys. The plants grow in thorny thickets dominated
by succulent plants. Its habitat varies from level ground to rocky
areas. The plants are usually scandent, the stems ascending and
little branched and climbing to the thicket canopy, producing its
showy racemes usually fully extended in full sun. Here the climate
is dry and hot and frost very light or absent. Rainfall is mainly
during the warmer summer months ranging between 500-600 mm per annum.
Winters are dry, but with occasional cold fronts and winter rain.
The specific epithet ciliaris pertains to its marginal teeth
arranged like an eyelash and extending right around the base of
the amplexicaul leaf. In habitat the plant is variable in leaf size
and smaller and larger forms occur. Aloe ciliaris var. ciliaris
differs from A. ciliaris var. tidmarshii, a somewhat
similar looking, multistemmed shrub, 1.0-1.5 m tall, by its climbing
nature and marginal teeth which are continuous round the base of
According to Dr G.W. Reynolds, Aloe ciliaris var. ciliaris was first collected by John Burchell, a well-known English traveller,
on 9 Oct. 1813 in the Port Alfred District. It was named by the
succulent plant botanist, Adrian Haworth in 1825.
The conspicuous, bright orange-red flowers of Aloe ciliaris
var. ciliaris are pollinated by sunbirds. The slender stems
and often recurved leaves aid in anchoring the plant. The plant
has a shallow root system utilising the upper humus-rich soil layer.
Water is stored in its fleshy stems and leaves which helps the plant
during droughts. It is a well-known fact that climbing plants are
rapid growers; They do not have to invest energy in woody characters,
but can use their energy in quick growth, and by leaning on other
woody vegetation, rapidly reach the canopy, exposing their leaves
to the sun. Aloes are usually slow growers, but this species is
Growing Aloe ciliaris var. ciliaris
This is a tough and versatile garden plant for frost-free areas.
It is best planted at the base of a shrubbery or fence. It will
soon climb to the canopy and produce its handsome flowers. Cuttings
can be planted straight into the ground at base of the shrubs or
at 1.5 m intervals along fences. It will also scramble up in a hedge.
It is not resistant to heavy frost. It also thrives in containers,
but needs support for its weak stems. It is not shy to flower and
thrives on organic food such as compost. The plants are drought
tolerant, but will also grow well in high rainfall regions, where
they should be planted in a well-drained spot. It is tolerant of
a wide range of soil conditions and also grows well in winter rainfall
Western Cape gardens.
Probably the easiest of all aloes, a branch can simply be cut and
planted in a container or in the garden and will rapidly grow. It
can also be grown from seed like all other Aloe species. Seed is
best sown during spring or summer. The young plants grow quite fast
and can be planted out within a year.
Sow in a sandy, well-drained potting soil in a warm shady position
in standard seed trays. Germination is within three weeks. Cover
with a thin layer of sand (1-2 mm) and keep moist. The seedlings
can be planted out in individual bags as soon as they are large
enough to handle. Flowering occurs within 2-3 years.
Reynolds, G.W. 1950. The aloes of South Africa. Trustees
of the Aloes of South Africa Book Fund, Johannesburg.
Ernst van Jaarsveld