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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe africana

Aloe africana, the Uitenhage aloe, is a tall, single-stemmed plant reaching 2 m to 4 m in height (SA Tree List No. 28.2). Occasionally a plant will branch from the base. The dry leaf remains persist below the green rosettes on the generally erect stem.

This Eastern Province species grows from the Gamtoos River near Humansdorp eastwards to Port Alfred and Bathurst, much seen near Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth. Inland spread follows river valleys as far as Bedford.

The habitat is dense, spiny scrubveld of lowlands and near the coast, the plants rarely growing in the open. The climate includes a hot summer and a frost-free winter. The land receives mainly summer rain, from 375 mm to 500 mm per annum.

A. ferox, also distributed here but more widely, is more likely to grow in the open, less among dense bush. Although the species distribution is not very large, A. africana is not considered to be threatened in its habitat early in the twenty first century, its population still stable (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002; www.redlist.sanbi.org).

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Aloe africana fruit

Aloe africana fruit capsules are markedly grooved longitudinally between and upon their three segments. The fleshy fruits are roughly cylindrical and shiny. The initial green colour is replaced by pale brown and other shades, succeeding each other en route to ripeness.

By the time they open to release the small seeds, the capsules will be dry. At present, it is the remaining perianth detritus that is dry here, as well as the small bracts upon the bare peduncle of the raceme.

The bracts are triangular, whitish and papery, one below each fruit, as well as sterile ones lower down on the bare stem below the flowers. These bracts appeared when the inflorescence developed, long before the first open flower (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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Aloe africana leaves

The long, slender leaves of Aloe africana spread and recurve in the large single rosette. The leaf colour is dull to greyish green, sometimes properly glaucous or blue-green.

Hard and sharp, reddish brown teeth are spaced evenly along the margins, but larger and more spaced nearer the leaf tips. The blades are often without spines, although a few sparsely scattered spines may be present on both leaf surfaces or some concentrated in a short keel row below the leaf tip.

The leaf margins curve up, rendering the upper leaf surface channelled. On plants a bit taller than this one the upper leaves will show more spread, the lower ones more droop.

Leaf sap of A. africana is pale honey-coloured (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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Aloe africana lopsided

An Aloe africana raceme grows solitary or in a panicle of few (two to four) branches, particularly on mature plants. Two or three inflorescences may occur successively from one leaf rosette. The erect racemes taper notably or slightly towards their tips.

In hard times the uppermost few perianths may fail to develop, depending on the resources that vary with the challenges of the seasons. The flowers in the photo are opening first on the side favoured by the sun, their colouring also brighter on the sunny side. Fruits may already be formed at the base of a raceme while buds at the top are still small, closed and red.

Spreading risk to capitalise on production opportunities amidst continual weather change is sensible in business and farming, as well as in nature (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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Aloe africana raceme of buds

Aloe africana buds are red and fairly uniform, the older ones lower down in the raceme elongating as their moment of opening (and yellowing) approaches. The buds are densely stacked up the raceme.

This raceme is about cylindrical, not tapering to the top as they generally do in this species. The bud tips, however, are all pronouncedly curving up as is the wont of A. africana flowers.

The lack of perianths at the tip of the raceme shows the point where the supply store ran out of building material, leaving only the bare scaffolding as evidence of the limits to growth. Not all buds will bloom when budgeted resources run out (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe africana stages of flowering

Aloe africana inflorescences in several stages of development tell a story of changing shapes. The earliest raceme was the tallest, had a better deal when the plant was prepared and resources were plentiful. It now sports bulging green and browning fruit, shiny where the persisting perianths do not cover them. Many bare stalk spots where fruits did not form indicate the toughness of the times for these plants.

This message is conveyed more strongly by the few yellow flowers open on the brave but deficient short raceme low down on the left in the picture: One does what one can with the hand one is dealt, however meagre the allotted nutrients may be.

Other inflorescence parts in view show variable fortunes in the number of fruits produced and in the uneven promise of flowers yet to perform. The writhing and twisting of the long leaves in the rosettes below are in sync with the hard times message conveyed by this aloe community.

Flowering of A. africana usually happens from midwinter to early spring, but the occasional inflorescence may be spotted at other times; the life rule being that no chance is to be missed without a diligent effort (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002).

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Aloe africana up-curved perianths

The tapering, conical raceme of Aloe africana has yellow to yellow-orange open perianths and red to red-orange buds, all of them curving up distinctively. This curvature is accentuated in the open flowers by the stamens being far exserted to present their pollen-laden anthers in the open.

Each of the six segments of the flower or perianth has a stamen from its base, the filament emerging from next to the ovary. These segments grow in two whorls of three as in all the monocotfamilies related to the lilies.

The inner three anthers on their flattened filaments are pushed out of the perianth mouth earlier than the outer trio, prolonging the period of providing fresh pollen to all willing clients. For clients, read all the nosy passers-by; all those keen to touch are indiscriminately included.

The exserted filament part turns orange, the included part in the perianth tube remaining lemon yellow. The style pushes the stigma beyond the anthers for the duration of the open flower remaining intact (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Coates Palgrave, 2002).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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