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Photo: Jack Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe broomii

Aloe broomii is most of the time a large, single-stemmed plant, occasionally branching at the base or higher up, but not often as much as seen here. Commonly classified among the stemless aloes, an erect stem of up to 1 m does sometimes occur. Such a stem is not directly visible, for the remains of the old dry leaves persist on it down to the base. The typical height reached by a mature plant is around 1,5 m.

The species distribution lies in the Western Cape and Northern Cape from as far west as Beaufort West, Carnarvon and Prieska, to the Eastern Cape as far as Dordrecht and Barkly East. Northwards it crosses the Gariep River into the southern Free State and western Lesotho, southwards into the Langkloof.

Every green fruit capsule on these densely stacked stems is preparing a large number of seeds. However conservative one wishes to estimate total annual seed production here, the number should be huge. Yet there are no other A. broomii plants to be seen on the large tract of open land in the photo. This gives some idea of nature's over-provision to cover for many forms of bad luck. The will to live through offspring is one of the most magnificent forces in nature to study.

This Aloe was first collected in 1905 by Robert Broom, well-known South African Palaeontologist and Anthropologist of the twentieth century. The plant was later named after him by Schonland.

Next to the story of humanity's coming to be on earth, there are thousands more fascinating tales not yet fully told, of species meriting the attention of high curiosity people interested in science (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; iSpot).

Aloe broomii flowers

The flowers of Aloe broomii grow in a robust, dense raceme that is usually unbranched. Only one or two (rarely three) of these racemes appear annually per rosette, from late winter to mid-spring. The many-flowered inflorescence is erect and long; up to 1 m and also narrow, only about 7 cm wide.

The peduncle is flattened near the base and more cylindrical higher up. It is dark brown in colour, covered in many papery bracts. Each flower is short and broad, up to 2,5 cm long and pale yellow in colour.

An unusual feature of these flowers is the (pale yellow) perianth being completely covered by its golden-green, pointed bract. Only the exserted (protruding from the perianth) stamens and stigma are revealed for pollinator benefit, but the visitors are still eager as every perianth promises a (little) nectar reward. The bracts form a dense, imbricate pattern, overlapping like roof-tiles on the surface of the cylindrical shape. The exposed filament parts become orange in colour.

There is a less common variety of A. broomii, viz. var. tarkaensis in the far southeast of the distribution that grows smaller bracts. This allows parts of the perianths (corollas) some visibility. This variety flowers later, near the end of summer to early autumn (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; iSpot).

Author: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe broomii habitat

The habitat of Aloe broomii is karoid, being partly in the Great Karoo and Nama Karoo. The plants grow here on ironstone ridges and rocky slopes, often on the north-facing ones in the semi-arid central part of the country.

The plant usually grows solitary, found at elevations from 1000 m to 2000 m. Rainfall in this region is 250 mm to 375 mm, mainly received in late summer convection storms. The summers are hot here, the winters cold.

The species is not considered to be threatened in its habitat early in the twenty first century (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; iSpot; www.redlist.sanbi.org).

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Aloe broomii leaves

The leaves of Aloe broomii are short and broad. They curve up slightly and crowd densely in the large rosette of about 1 m in diameter. A leaf becomes about 30 cm long, ending in a spine-tip and usually a dried-out upper part.

Leaf margins are hard and horn-like, armed with sharp teeth evenly spaced along the edges, while no spines occur on the yellow-green leaf blades. The teeth are triangular in shape with pale tips.

Faint longitudinal lines are present on both surfaces of the leaf blades, but no spots occur. The upper surface is about flat near the base, becoming channelled near its tip. The lower surface is convex.

The leaf sap is honey-coloured. The leaves have been boiled by stock farmers to yield a liquid for use against ticks (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; iSpot).

Photo: Jack Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

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