Aloe microstigma is one of the most floriferous aloes in
South Africa. It is a common and widespread species that transforms
the dull winter landscape into a wonderland with its towering warm
colours that resembles flames on candles.
These plants reach a height of about 60cm and usually occur singularly
or in small groups. The leaves are arranged in rosettes and are
blue-green but can turn reddish brown if suffering from environmental
stress. Conspicuous white spots appear on the leaves, which contrast
well with the reddish teeth along the margins. The plant usually
produces two or three flowers simultaneously from May to July. The
inflorescences (stem on which all flowers are borne) are up to 1m.
The flowers are bicoloured, with red buds turning orange. In some
places, however, the buds and open flowers may be uniformly red
or yellow. Aloe microstigma is not threatened.
Aloe microstigma is very common and widely distributed in
the dry interior of the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces. It is
found in a wide variety of habitats, in flat open areas, steep rocky
slopes, or amongst bushes. Plants do exceptionally well in cultivation
and prefer dry gardens. One can also grow them in very wet gardens,
if drainage is good. Plants are drought tolerant, but the flowers
are easily damaged by frost.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The scientific name accurately describes the distinguishing feature
of the plant (microstigma means 'very small spot'). There
are about 350 species of Aloe, found in Africa, Arabia, Madagascar
and Socotra. About 126 of these occur in South Africa. Aloes were
traditionally grouped with other lily-like plants under the family
Liliaceae. Some of their close relatives are Gasteria, Haworthia,
Knophofia, Bulbinella, Bulbine, Astroloba, and Trachyandra.
Aloe microstigma is pollinated primarily by sugar birds particularly
the lesser double collard sugar bird which extracts the nectar produced
by the flowers. Insects may also be responsible for pollination.
Seeds are produced in abundance and this serves as a survival mechanism.
They are small, black to 2mm in diameter, inconspicuously winged
and wind dispersed. Seeds are parasitized by small day flies that
lay their eggs in the seeds, their larvae then live off the seeds.
The success of germination is relatively high giving rise to the
abundance of the species. The rosette of leaves helps to cool the
plant in that the upper leaves provides shading for the lower ones.
Another interesting adaptation is the inward folding of leaves during
the hot summer months. This helps to protect the softer and younger
leaves from extreme temperatures. Leaves unfold again in cool weather.
Uses and cultural aspects
Aloe microstigma is not recorded as a medicinal plant but
it is said that the bitter sap has healing properties in cases of
cuts and burn wounds. Plants are more favoured for their use in
horticulture. They make particularly nice low maintenance garden
plants which are especially attractive when in flower in the barren
Growing Aloe microstigma
These plants should be grown in sunny, somewhat sheltered and well
drained areas. They are ideal plants for a difficult or neglected
part of the garden and with the addition of other suitable plants
can create stunning rock gardens. Companion plants such as Cotyledon
orbiculata, Tylecodon paniculatus, Crassula arborescens, Aloe dichotoma,
Aloe brevifolia, Pelargonium crithmifolium, Pelargonium sericifolia,
etc., are ideal to start a rock garden.
Aloe microstigma is best grown from fresh seeds that are
sown in summer or autumn. A coarse sandy medium must be used and
seeds are sprinkled lightly and covered slightly with sand. If kept
moist, (not wet) seeds germinate within two weeks. The most common
pests on Aloe microstigma are scale, the aloe snout beetle,
and aphids. These can all be successfully treated with contact or
systemic pesticides. If plants are to be fed, use only organic based
fertilisers in a liquid solution. These can be applied as a soil
drench or sprayed on plants once a month. Another good plant food
for aloes is bone meal. Bone meal is mixed in the soil and works
wonders especially when planting or transplanting aloes.
- Van Wyk, B-E and Smith, G. 1996. Guide to Aloes of South
Africa. Pretoria, Briza Publications.
- Goldblatt, P and Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants. Cape
Town, NBI & Missouri NBG.
Karoo Desert NBG