This aloe is without a doubt the most profusely branched of all
aloes. Like its closest relative, Aloe
dichotoma or quiver tree, it has a very old and almost stressed
appearance making this an excellent and sought-after container plant
or feature plant in the garden.
mentioned before, this aloe forms many branches from the ground
level. This is the only significant difference between A. dichotoma
and A. ramosissima. Branching continues
as the plant becomes older, resulting in a dense, almost spherical
shrub up to 2 m high and wide. The stems are smooth and covered
with a waxy, grey powder, which acts as a sunscreen in the harsh
climate. The branches end in small rosettes of fleshy, oblong leaves,
each up to 200 mm long and 20 mm wide at the base. The leaf colour
is glaucous-green or yellowish green, often with a pinkish tinge.
The margins have narrow edges with brownish teeth. The flowers appear
from June to August. The usually 3-branched inflorescence is short,
up to 200 mm long, with comparatively large, swollen, fleshy flowers
which are bright yellow. The capsules are shiny and smooth and when
dry, split into three, remaining fused at the base. Seeds are narrow,
winged, up to about 30 x18 mm.
A. ramosissima is restricted to the
Richtersveld and southern Namibia. The plants occur in very arid,
rocky places on hills and mountains. They rely on winter rains that
average around 110 mm or less per annum. It is not at all uncommon
in this area for summer temperatures to rise to 46ºC and years
may pass before any rain falls.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This plant was known as A. dichotoma var. ramosissima but has reverted to its old name A. ramosissima. According to one theory, the genus name Aloe is derived from
the Arabic word alloch. According to Marloth, one of South
Africa's pioneer botanists of the 19th century, the name is derived
from the Greek and Hebrew name allal, meaning bitter. The
latter is more acceptable as aloes produce a very bitter sap. The
species name dichotoma (dichotomous) means forked and the
variety name ramosissima means very much branched, referring
to the distinctive growth form.
Aloe ramosissima is regarded as a vulnerable
species mainly as a result of mining activities and overgrazing.
The bright yellow flowers produce nectar which is harvested by sugarbirds
and ants (especially when grown in the Cape). Generally, flowers
are pollinated by bees and ants. When capsules dry out, the winged
seeds are carried by the wind, often landing in bushes where they
germinate, making full use of the shelter and shade. Plants eventually
outgrow the nurse plant, killing it in the process. The fleshy leaves
and stems act as water reservoirs in times of drought and the grey
powder on the stems reflect intense heat away from the plant.
Uses and cultural aspects
Unlike A. dichotoma, there are no cultural or medicinal uses
associated with the maiden's quiver tree. However, it is known that
the very young flower buds can be eaten and taste a little like
Growing Aloe ramosissima
Plants grow easily from seeds and once germinated develop rapidly.
It is possible to grow plants from cuttings but attempts are very
seldom successful and therefore not advisable. Seeds mature from
November onwards and although they are able to survive for many
months, it is better to sow fresh seeds (seeds are often parisitized)
from May to July. Use coarse river sand mixed with fine compost,
one part compost and two parts sand. Cover seed lightly and keep
moist. One must be careful not to over-water and seedlings should
be treated with a fungicide to avoid damping off.
- 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.
- Jeppe, B. 1969. South African aloes. Purnell, Cape Town.
- Reynolds, G.W. 1950. The aloes of South Africa. The Aloes
of South Africa Book Fund, Johannesburg.
- Smith, G.F. & Van Wyk, B-E. 1996. Guide to aloes of South
Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Karoo Desert NBG
Updated July 2008