The bright red flowering spikes of Aloe khamiesensis against the blue Namaqualand skies are a sight to behold. The charismatic plants flower in abundance and in their natural habitat, wedged between granitic boulders, their colour adds warmth to the cool winter air.
Aloe khamiesensis are erect plants that can easily attain a height of 3 m. The plants are usually single-stemmed with only one rosette but at times the stem may be branched into two or three. The long and relatively narrow leaves grow to 400 mm long and 80 mm wide at the base. At their base the leaves curve upwards and at their tips they curve outward. This, together with the pale green colour gives the plants a graceful appearance. There are small white spots present on the upper and lower surface of the leaves while small reddish brown triangular teeth are present on the leaf margins. The inflorescences are repeatedly branched to form between four and eight racemes. The racemes are strongly triangular and about 300 mm long with tubular, orange-red flowers with greenish yellow tips. Aloe khamiesensis flowers from June to August. As with other aloes, the seeds are typically winged, 8 mm x 4 mm, and are produced in abundance inside the fruit capsules that split into three when ripe. Seeds ripen normally around October–December.
Aloe khamiesensis is not threatened but since it has a fairly narrow distribution, and given the fact that there has been a marked decline in the numbers due to unscrupulous collecting, the status of this species may change in years to come.
Distribution and habitat
Aloe khamiesensis grows in rocky and mountainous parts of Namaqualand in the Northern Cape Province. There are also isolated localities in the Hantamberg in the Calvinia district. The associated vegetation is predominantly the Namaqualand and Succulent Karoo veld of South Africa where the soils are mostly granite- and sandstone-derived.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Aloe is derived from the Arabic, “Alloch” and translated as “Allal” in Greek and Hebrew, literally meaning bitter or bitter sap, which is descriptive of aloe sap. The specific epithet Aloe khamiesensis refers to the Kamiesberg Mountains near Kamieskroon from where the species was first discovered and described in 1922. A. khamiesensis is a very distinctive species, closely allied to A. framesii in leaf, racemes, pedicels and flowers, but differs primarily in having longer leaves, larger rosettes, and an erect stout stem. On 10 October 1685, during Simon Van der Stel's Expedition to the Copper mountain, more or less at the present site of Kamieskroon, an aloe was found and figured by Claudius. It seems that the species was A. khamiesensis. There are approximately 125 species of aloe in South Africa many of which are important garden plants locally and across the world especially in Mediterranean and temperate regions.
Aloe khamiesensis produces nectar and is therefore pollinated by sugar birds as well as winged and crawling insects such as ants which are small enough to enter the flower tube in which the nectar is stored. After fertilisation, the fruits, which are capsules, grow quickly and split into 3 parts in spring and summer. The seeds are small, up to 4 mm long and slightly winged enabling them to be dispersed by the wind. The plant is very tough and can survive often for several seasons without water, at which point the leaves turn a reddish colour, a sign generally associated with stress. A. khamiesensis is not known to be eaten by animals.
Uses and cultural aspects
No medicinal or cultural uses are recorded for Aloe khamiesensis. Obviously they make very attractive garden specimens if successfully cultivated, however collecting this aloe is wasteful and causes unnecessary damage, because they do not thrive away from their natural habitat. Plants might survive in hot glasshouses but if the light is too soft and temperatures too low they may loose their character very quickly.
Growing Aloe khamiesensis
Aloe khamiesensis is best grown from seed. Seed must be sown as fresh as possible. When kept too long they are parasitised by small crawling insects. The best time for sowing would be in the summer from January onwards. Use coarse river sand and cover seeds lightly, then keep moist. It is advisable to treat seeds with a long-lasting fungicide, as seedlings are prone to damping off, a fungus that eventually kills the young plants. Simply shake seeds in a container with some fungicide. After germination, when plants are about 2–3 cm high, plant over, using a sandy-loam medium and feed with organic based fertilizer at least once a month to ensure healthy growth. If you have a garden with clay soil, use some agricultural lime and bone meal to break up and nourish the soil. Mature plants in cultivation may at times be subjected to attack from scale and aphids. For scale an oil-based solution can be used; even soap water has proven effective against scale. Contact insecticides for insects usually work well but in heavy infestations a systemic application may be necessary. All known garden pests can be kept to a minimum by simply ensuring optimal growing conditions and healthy plants. Companion plants to Aloe khamiesenis include A. pearsonii, A. claviflora, A. falcata, A. gariepensis, A. dichotoma, A. dichotoma subsp. ramosissima and A. arenicola. Other additions to consider include are Lampranthus multiradiatus, L. aureus, Pelargonium echinatum, P. xerophyton, P. spinosum, P. sericifolium, P. crithmifolium, Tripteris oppositifolium, Stoeberia arborescens, Gazania krebsiana, Hermannia saccifera, Lampranthus reptans and Oscularia deltoides. Larger succulents like Tylecodon paniculatus, Cyphostemma juttae and Cotyedon orbiculata are also fantastic choices.
References and further reading
- Court, D. 1981. Succulent flora of Southern Africa. Cape Town, Balkema.
- Cowling, R. & Pierce, S. 1999. Namaqualand, a succulent desert. Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003. Plants of southern Africa : an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Jackson, W. P. U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town Printing Department.
- Leistner, O.A. 2005. Seed plants of southern and tropical Africa : families and genera. Southern African Botanical Diversity NetworkReport No. 26. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Nichols, G. 2005. Growing rare plants, a practical handbook on propagating the treatened plants of southern Africa. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 36. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Stearn, W. T, 2003. Stearn's dictionary of plant names for the gardener. Cassel. UK.
- Smith, C. A. 1966. Common names of South African plants, Pretoria, Government Printer
- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. A guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B.-E. & Smith, G. 1996. Guide to aloes of South Africa. Pretoria, Briza Publications
- Van Jaarsveld, E., Van Wyk, B.-E. & Smith, G. 2000. Succulents of South Africa. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Van Wyk, A.E. & Smith, G.F. 2001. Regions of floristic endemism. Umdaus Press, Hatfield, Pretoria.
- Williamson, G, 2000. Richtersveld, the enchanted wilderness. Umdaus Press, Hatfield, Pretoria.
Harold Porter NBG