The spiral aloe is a rare and beautiful aloe from the high Maluti
Mountains of Lesotho. It does not occur naturally anywhere outside
Lesotho with the exception of one record on the Lesotho border with
the Free State. There are apparently also unsubstantiated reports
of it growing in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg.
most striking feature of this aloe is the perfect spiral in which
the leaves are arranged. This may be clockwise or anti-clockwise.
The spiral is formed by five ranks of leaves which contain between
15 and 30 leaves each. The plants are stemless and usually not multiple
although they grow in dense groups. It has become a prized collector's
item and is possibly also used for muthi. Due to this and the specific
habitat requirements, the numbers in the wild have diminished and
it is now listed as endangered. The change in the water regime due
to overgrazing is also a possible reason for decreasing numbers.
Natural regeneration is from seed as the plants do not form off-shoots.
Aloe polyphylla grows in high altitude grassland, between
2000 and 2500 metres - sometimes higher - although apparently only
on the more easterly facing slopes at these higher altitudes. This
could be due to the cold, where it may be important for the plants
to receive early morning sun in winter. The plants are sometimes
also under snow in winter. The spiral aloe grows in basalt rock
crevices on very steep slopes with loose rock which aids in keeping
the plants very well drained. They often grow in the mist and cloud
belt in Lesotho. Although soils are well drained, the plants here
have a continual flow of water in the summer months. The rainfall
is very high and the summers very cool at these high altitudes in
The leaves themselves are broad and have a grey-green
colour. The tips usually become dark, purplish brown and are quite
sharp. The margins are irregularly toothed. Plants have approximately
150 leaves each, which explains the name "polyphylla".
"Poly" means "many" and "phylla" is
Greek for "leaves".
The flowers are attractive, ranging from dull red to salmon-pink.
They may be yellow occasionally. The infloresence is branched with
each flower head being quite compact. Plants usually flowers in
spring and early summer.
The species is extremely difficult to grow in cultivation. Plants
which have been removed from their habitat usually do not survive
for more than a few years. It is a criminal offence to remove plants
or seed of Aloe polyphylla from the natural habitat or to
buy plants from roadside vendors.
- Beverly, A. 1978. A Survey of Aloe Polyphylla. In Veld &
Flora ( 64:1)
- Bornman, H & Hardy D.S. 1971. Aloes of the South African
Veld Voortrekkerpers, Johannesburg.
- Glen, H.F. & Hardy D.S. 2000. Aloaceae (First Part): Aloe.
Flora of Southern Africa 5(1,1). National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and Meanings of Names of South
African Plant Genera. Ecolab, University of Cape Town.
- Jeppe, B. 1969. South African Aloes. Purnell, Cape Town.
- Reynolds, G.W. 1982. The Aloes of South Africa. A.A. Balkema,
- Scott-Shaw, C.R. 1999. Rare and Threatened Plants of KwaZulu-Natal
and neighbouring Regions: A plant Red Data Book. KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation
- Tootill, E. (Ed.) 1984. The Penguin Dictionary of Botany. Penguin
- Van Wyk, B-E & Smith, G. 1996. Guide to the Aloes of South
Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden