aloe comptonii


Photo: Ricky Mauer

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe comptonii

Aloe comptonii is one of the creeping aloes. This means that it has one or more rosettes facing up, stems of varying length lying on the ground. There is a difference between stemless A. comptonii plants in the east of the species distribution in the Karoo and Eastern Cape as far as Uitenhage, and ones with stems in the west, the Little Karoo and Great Karoo as far west as Montagu.

The leaves of A. comptonii are blue-green, narrowly triangular with teeth only on the margins. These teeth are conical, white and blunt. The plants bloom in spring and summer, presenting single racemes or branched panicles of up to eight racemes. The raceme is short, cone-shaped and densely stacked with long, thin, red perianths, pendulous when open.

This plant was photographed in Meiringspoort where it hangs over the edge of a rock by the roadside; in the region where one would expect stems. Notice how long some of them are. All seen here may be just one plant and probably quite old (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003;

Aloe comptonii in flower png.png


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe comptonii in flower

The inflorescences of the Aloe comptonii plants seen here are branched into multiple racemes (usually from three to eight of them). These racemes are densely flowered, short and somewhat conical (typical form of flowers in the east) to rounded (as they grow in the western part of the plant's distribution).

The flowers in picture are slightly pinker than the familiar red or scarlet that contrasts so well with the grey shrubbery of the Uniondale area. According to Reynolds the "purest" form of the species, defining the type, are found a few kilometres north-east of this town. The flowers in the photo appear quite similar to those of A. perfoliata, the species with which A. comptonii merges in the western extreme of its distribution area. But the leaves here still suggest A. comptonii characteristics.

The perianths or individual flower corollas are thin, slightly curved and three-angled or trigonous. The faint yellow colour at the open mouths of the lowest perianths can just be discerned at the bottom of some racemes here. Flowers of the Asphodelaceae family (and the lilies from which Asphodelaceae has been split off), open like this, all starting to open from the lowest ones.

The comptonii specific epithet was bestowed on this plant in honour of Prof. R.H. Compton, past Director of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. He was responsible for splitting this species from A. mitriformis that previously was A. parvispina (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974).

Aloe comptonii inflorescence.png


Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe comptonii inflorescence

The branched panicle of Aloe comptonii or the eastern form of A. perfoliata after the latest name change, may be 80 cm tall and bear up to eight branches.

Thin, whitish sterile bracts are seen on the peduncles below some of the racemes. The densely flowered racemes, rounded to conical in shape, become up to 15 cm long. Individual flower stalks or pedicels become up to 3,5 cm long, the lowest ones the longest. Small, white bracts below each pedicel are dry and membranous in texture.

Perianths (individual flowers) are dull pink to scarlet, cylindrical to triangular in cross-section, slightly curved and bulging at the base. They become slightly wider towards the tip, the mouth usually opening widely, by which time the perianth is pendulous. There isn’t much of exserted anthers to be seen in the photo (Reynolds, 1974).

Aloe comptonii leaves - Large.png


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe comptonii leaves

The leaves of Aloe comptonii are the largest among the South African creeping aloes. This is a robust species growing on summer-arid slopes of the Western and Eastern Cape. The broadly triangular leaves taper to thin, sturdy tips.

The creamy white teeth do not only appear on the leaf margins, but also along the keel on the lower leaf surface. And sometimes in a second row where a faint additional keel may lurk! An occasional tooth may even be seen growing out of line… for the Aloeorthodontist to attend to! Some leaves do not have teeth on the keel; on others the row that starts at the tip reaches far down or consists of only a couple.

The plant was called A. parvispina at one stage in its history, meaning small spines in Latin (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974).

Aloe comptonii purple-tipped buds.png


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe comptonii purple-tipped buds

The shallow dome that an Aloe comptonii inflorescence sometimes presents is formed by narrow tubular perianths or individual flowers.

The disciplined buds hold their position thanks to stiff flower pedicels (stalks). A minimum of sagging is allowed in the longer, lower buds nearing the moment of tips splitting apart, flowers opening. The beauty is much encapsulated in the overall inflorescence, rather than in the individual perianths.

The leaves below and the individual flowers confirm the “aloeness” of the plant, while the flattish brush-like structure pretends to be a cut above the ordinary aloe raceme.

Aloe comptonii yielding only few seed ca

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe comptonii yielding only few seed capsules

This Aloe comptonii plant photographed in October bloomed well enough, but not much seed has formed on the drying flower stalks. Just as flowering seasons vary, seed formation is not equally favoured by prevailing conditions of a given season. Every single ripe capsule splits open to release a large number of seeds though. If conditions in the germinating and growing seasons are favourable, a poor season may still yield a worthwhile number of new plants (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

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