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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe aristata

Aloe aristata, known colloquially as the lace aloe, is a dwarf aloe that occurs naturally in a large inland distribution. This area comprises central South Africa from the Karoo, Eastern Cape, the entire Lesotho and adjacent areas of the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. 

This plant is a favourite with gardeners in diverse circumstances as it is hardy, also performing well in containers and indoor conditions. This species is not only for experts in horticulture or people with much garden space. But some sun will help to induce blooming.

A. aristata forms clumps of more than ten rosettes in favourable circumstances, although it remains “stemless” insofar as the rosettes remain on the ground and any short stems as there may be, invisible. All leaf surfaces are dark green with scattered white spots sometimes developed into small white mounds or tubercles. The leaf margins have rows of little soft white teeth. Some leaves are keeled.

Inflorescences comprise racemes of loosely pendulous, nectar rich, pink or red flowers (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

Aloe aristata and the fat of the land.pn

Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe aristata and the fat of the land

The scattered white tubercles on the leaves of Aloe aristata vary in size and shape. They even form meandering rows like soldiers on the first morning of boot camp.

The soft white marginal teeth on the leaves have less chance of deviation, apart from size and direction. Like many natural phenomena of similar appearance, superficially they appear regular or identical, but closer inspection uncovers variability.

Leaf tips are often slightly desiccated, the dry remains twisting randomly, even in a specimen that does not want. The smallest signs of mortality are ever-present in all burgeoning life. The specific name aristata meaning bearded or awned may recognise either these leaf tips, the marginal teeth or the white stubble on the skin.

Leaf colour is green in the central parts on most leaves in picture. Near the tips a transition to brown has come about, while the newly exposed basal sections are still pale to whitish. Leaf colour varies with age and environmental conditions, as does surface colour in the natural stages of many living things, including skin colour in people.

The bulge of the convex upper leaf surfaces varies with prosperity. This plant lives well but artificially in cultivation, receiving an ample share of the fat of the land as Joseph promised his brothers if they would come to live in Egypt.

Home is the difference between habitat and hothouse, natural vicissitudes versus boundless prosperity. But no fleshpot remains full, irrespective of where one goes.

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe aristata bearing fruit

Green, unripe fruit capsules of this Aloe aristata plant in grassland habitat have formed successfully on its erect stalk. Some Aloe flowers drop off without producing seed, while seed viability also varies. Note the size of the annual stalk and seed containers above, compared to the perennial leaf rosette that generates it.

The three-sectioned fruit capsules resemble those found on lilies, relatives of the aloes, their flowers structurally similar. The three-chambered seed-vessel or capsule contains two upright columns of seeds in each chamber. The capsule is a development from the original carpel or female flower part. Before the Aloe genus was moved into the Asphodelaceae family, it formed part of the Liliaceae. 

The photo shows the narrow, oblong capsules on their erect pedicels. When they dry out and open at the top, seeds will be spilt gradually, dispersed in accordance with the whims of the wind (Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969).

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Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe aristata inflorescence

The inflorescence of Aloe aristata shown here is simple, consisting of one raceme only. Branched panicles are common with two to six racemes. The individual flower, the narrow perianth tube, has a basal swelling over the ovary and a constriction just beyond it. The open flower tubes are slightly curved downward in this species.

The upper side of the perianth receiving full sunlight may be a brighter red, compared to a pale hue below, where it is partly shielded from the sun; a reported phenomenon not always seen. The outer three corolla segments or tepals are free in their upper parts, the inner ones almost entirely attached to each other. Both the anthers and the stigma are normally said to be exserted, although that is not the case in picture.

Aloe aristata presents a fair amount of variation across its large natural distribution. A general comment about aloes made by Reynolds applies to many other living species: “There is almost as much individuality and variation among some species of Aloe as there is among human beings” (p.7).

When not in flower, A. aristata, like A. humilis, may be confused with some Haworthia species; similar to people being mistaken for look-alikes or doubles. Genes have latitude (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

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Aloe aristata multiple leaf rosettes

New rosettes of Aloe aristata form around a well-growing parent via suckers or root offshoots. Such growth occurs either via stem stolons above-ground or from root suckers as in this species.

Separating these rosettes furnishes vegetatively propagated new plants with identical genetic attributes as the parent plant, unlike seed plants. Or they may be left unmolested in the hands of nature to keep shaping these attractive assemblies (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

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