Aloe plicatilis is a unique and striking
much-branched shrub or small tree.
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.
The species name plicatilis means fan-like, pleated or
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.
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.