Aloe krapohliana is a distinctive smallish aloe which falls under a group of aloes characterized by short stemless plants, leaf rosettes that form near or at ground level, and the inflorescences are spectacularly showy and large in relation to the small size of the plants.
Aloe krapohliana is classified as a dwarf aloe and reaches a height of no more than 250 mm. Plants may be found growing as solitary rosettes but there are forms of this species where up to fifteen rosettes may be present. In older specimens stems may be visible but in most cases the plants appear stemless with dense leaf arrangements. The leaves, which are narrow and oblong, are 200 mm long and up to 60 mm wide at the base. The leaves are grey-green and without any spots or spines on both upper and lower surfaces. However, upon close inspection minute white teeth may be seen on the margins. Another peculiar feature of A. krapohliana is the conspicuous greyish brown transverse bands on the leaf surfaces which give these plants a striped appearance. The inflorescence is simple or sometimes double-branched, and up to 6 of these may appear from one single rosette, making them one of the most floriferous plants of all aloes. The racemes are dense and oblong and remarkably large for such a small plant, up to 150 x 60 mm. The attractive tubular flowers are 35 mm long, mostly a dull red but greenish yellow at the tips. Flowering takes place from June to September. As with other members of the Asphodelaceae, the fruit is a typical capsule. Seeds are typically winged, up to 3 mm long and produced in abundance inside the fruit capsules that split into three when ripe. Seeds ripen normally around October to December.
Aloe krapohliana is classified as Data Deficient - Insufficiently Known (DDD) (Raimondo et al. in prep.) mainly due to overcollecting, overgrazing and habitat destruction, particularly as it occurs in areas that are heavily mined.
Distribution and habitat
Aloe krapohliana is found in the extremely arid, northwestern corner of the Northern Cape otherwise known as the Succulent Karoo. Its range stretches from Van Rhynsdorp and Bitterfontein in the south to as far as the extreme north of South Africa in the Pella and Pofadder region of Little Bushmanland and then westwards to the coast along the Orange River. Plants are solitary but often in groups, either exposed or in partial shade among low Karoo bush, generally in hard ground associated with stony and rocky conditions but may also be found in sandy areas. The associated vegetation is predominantly the Namaqualand and Succulent Karoo veld of South Africa.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus 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 krapohliana was given in honour of Mr H.C. Krapohl who first collected the plants near Pella in the early 1800s. Marloth later described the species from these type specimens that flowered in Krapohl's garden in Cape Town at around 1812. A form of this species with small rosettes in clusters of up to fifteen heads has recently been described as Aloe krapohliana var. dumoulinii.
Aloe krapohliana 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. It is quite remarkable how large the inflorescence can be, compared to the size of the plant. In habitat this is particularly noticeable when the small plant advertises itself by its bright flowers that tower over the small bushes in which it shelters. Without the flowers it would be a very difficult task to find the plants as the banded appearance of the leaves ensures an almost perfect camouflage in the veld. The plant in itself is very tough and can survive often for several seasons without water, at which point the leaves turn inward to protect the soft growth tip and turn brown to reddish, a sign generally associated with stress. It is not known to be eaten by many animals except the occasional rock hyrax, porcupine, or hare.
Uses and cultural aspects:
No medicinal uses are recorded for Aloe krapohliana.
Growing Aloe krapohliana
Unfortunately this beautiful aloe is very difficult to grow and hardly ever survives for more than a few years outside its natural habitat. No matter how carefully planted or how well drained the soil, plants continue to damp off even when given no water at all. This species, as others in its group, will simply not thrive away from its natural arid habitat. Aloe krapohliana may be grown from seeds. Seeds must be sown as fresh as possible. When kept too long they are parasitized by small crawling insects. The best time for sowing would be in the summer from October to December. 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 20–30 mm 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 insects, use an oil-based solution; even soap water has proved 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. Remember that Aloe krapohliana is adapted to arid conditions and it is thus very easy to kill plants through overwatering and poor drainage. Companion plants to Aloe krapohliana include, Aloe variegata, A. aristata, A. bowiea, A. brevifolia, A. humilis, A. longistyla, A. claviflora, A. falcata, A. dinteri and A. sladeniana. Other plants to consider are Lampranthus multiradiatus, L. aureus, L. reptans, Pelargonium echinatum, P. xerophytum, P. spinosum, P. sericifolia, P. crithmifolium, Stoeberia arborescens, Gazania krebsiana, Hermannia saccifera and Oscularia deltoides. etc. A smallish rock garden that provides some shelter to A. krapohliana, provides the best growing conditions.
References and further reading
- Court, D. 1981. Succulent flora of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. 2003. Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town Ecolab.
- Leistner, O.A. 2005. Seed plants of southern and tropical Africa: families and genera. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 26. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). In prep. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia.
- Reynolds, G.W. 1950. The aloes of South Africa. Trustees of the South African Aloe Book Fund, Johannesburg.
- Rothmann, S. 2004. Aloes, aristocrats of Namibian flora. Creda Press, Cape Town.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of south Africa No. 35.
- Smith, G.F. & Van Wyk, B-E. 2008. Aloes in southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Stearn, W.T. 2003. Stearn's dictionary of plant names for the gardener. Cassel, London.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Smith, G. 1996. Guide to aloes of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Harold Porter NBG