Aloe plicatilis

(L.) Mill.
Family: Asphodelaceae
Common names:
Fan aloe, bergaalwyn (Afr.), tongaalwyn (Afr.), Franschoekaalwyn (Afr.)

 

Aloe plicatilis

Aloe plicatilis is a unique and striking much-branched shrub or small tree.

Description
Large specimens of the fan aloe may reach a height of 3-5 m. The stems are forked with clusters of strap-shaped leaves arranged in 2 opposite rows. The clusters resemble an open fan, hence the common name fan aloe. The leaves are dull or grey-green in colour, with the margins almost smooth, except for some small teeth in the upper part. The leaves are about 300 mm long and 40 mm wide. The leaf sap is clear. The racemes are cylindrical in shape and are always single in each leaf cluster. There are up to 30 tubular, scarlet flowers, each about 50 mm long and somewhat fleshy in texture. This unusual arrangement and shape of the leaves makes this Aloe species unique. It flowers from August to October.

Aloe plicatilis predationName
The species name plicatilis means fan-like, pleated or folding together.

Distribution
Aloe plicatilis is the only tree aloe confined to the southwestern Cape, where it grows on the mountains from Franschhoek to Elandskloof in the north. Aloe plicatilis grows on steep, rocky slopes in well-drained acid, sandy soil. It grows among proteas, ericas and other fynbos vegetation and is one of the few aloes found in such vegetation. The fan aloe grows in an area with a high winter rainfall. This plant is not threatened but has a limited natural distribution area.

Ecology
Werner Voight (Curator of the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden) observed intensive debarking caused by rock hyrax (dassies) on Aloe plicatilis at Goudini during 2009. These agile animals climb to the top of branches where they first chew off the protective corky layer to get to the inner parts which are fibrous and a whitish colour. This contains a lot of water and is eaten right through until the stems collapse and fall to the ground. This behaviour presumably is associated with periods of droughts. It was also observed that stems that have fallen to the ground readily roots if there is sufficient soil and shelter close-by. Those that fall on bare rock simply perish in the sun.

Growing Aloe plicatilis

Aloe plicatilis makes a wonderful feature in any garden and is an excellent accent plant. It also makes an attractive pot plant. It may be propagated by branch cuttings (truncheons) planted in well-drained soil, away from the hot afternoon sun. Aloe plicatilis is easily grown from seed, but it is rather slow-growing. In cultivation it should be grown in a soil medium with a pH of 5.5-6.5. If the aloe is grown in summer rainfall areas it must receive ample water in winter and spring and good mulching or compost.

References

  • COURT, D. 2000. Succulent flora of southern Africa, revised edn. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • JOFFE, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
  • VAN WYK, B-E. & SMITH, G.F. 1996. Guide to the aloes of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • PALMER, E. & PITMAN, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa. Balkeman, Cape Town.


Berenice Carolus
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
November 2002

Updated by Werner Voight, May 2009


To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.