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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox after a leaf harvest

This Aloe ferox plant has a reduced rosette from the harvest that was made of mature green leaves at the base of the rosette. The short stub remains can be seen where leaves have been removed for collecting the juice.

A large market for A. ferox products exists in cosmetics and medicines. Rural people share a little in the commercial benefits by cutting leaves and stacking them in inverted rosette shaped heaps on the ground around a shallow hole where the valued aloe juice drips out from the leaf wounds for collection later.

The dry leaves lower down that were not removed from the very young plant, can be seen at the stem base. Similar harvest markings are evident on the tall specimen of A. ferox shown in this Album. In that case the harvesting stopped when the plant became too tall, as lugging ladders around in the veld is mostly too onerous for workers who do this work on foot (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Reynolds, 1974).

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox by the roadside

This generously flowering Aloe ferox repeats the performance every winter outside Riversdale on the inland road through the Garcia Pass. Farmers, towns, lodges and others who plant shrubs, succulents, trees or especially indigenous plants by their gates or along the road running past their properties improve the mood of passing travellers.

There is a giving aspect to planting something pretty for all to see on the open road, as opposed to doing it only in one’s own garden. As if culture comes closer to nature in generosity. Notable sights of this kind occur along roads near Nelspruit, some Limpopo towns, Ashton in the Western Cape and many more.

The often hard working trees doing duty at roadside resting spots along national and other long trip roads are appreciated by the resting coffee drinkers; probably not so much by those who litter when they stop for refreshments.

Between Robertson and Bonnievale every farmer has a unique species lining the route past his vineyards and orchards in a continuous roadside display, meticulously maintained. Winter is special on the road between Caledon and Villiersdorp, the wheat fields green and many planted roadside aloes flowering red.

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox covering a large terrain

This scene reminds of the army of terra cotta warriors of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Motionless guards in the veld personifying timelessness though they are very much alive. In nature something isn't less alive because it stands motionless apart from growing.

Large stands of Aloe ferox as this one in the southern Cape still adorn the countryside. Scenes like this deserve impromptu breaks in the journey if a safe place to stop can be found.

It is thought that A. ferox was first noticed by Europeans with botanical interest in the Swellendam district, the most westerly extreme of the plant’s distribution. The first description was published by Commelin in Leyden in 1703.

Pictures of A. ferox are found among San rock paintings and early European settlers recorded medicinal uses of the plant learnt from the Khoi. Among other uses, the juice served in treatment of open wounds, also on their domestic animals (Van Wyk and Gericke, 2000; Coates Palgrave, 2002; Reynolds, 1974).

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox flower

The racemes of Aloe ferox shown here are densely covered in cylindrical perianths comprising six segments. The flowers grow on pedicels of 5 mm long. Perianths open from the lowest ones facing the sun. In habitat it is the northern side that leads the flowering. Closed perianths start off with a little green at their tips.

The filaments inside each perianth are flattened. The anthers change to a darker orange or brown once they become exserted. The inner three anthers are exserted first, the pollen ripening in two batches. The ovary of 6 mm is green and six-grooved (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Reynolds, 1974).


Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox fruiting

The fruits of Aloe ferox have formed successfully on the erect branches of this panicle, photographed in October well after the normal flowering season. The smooth, fleshy capsules are ovoid and bulging. The red-brown colour of the capsules seen here varies, sometimes may be green. The ripe fruits dry out and split to release numerous small dark seeds, each attached to a thin wing that facilitates wind dispersal. Two rows of seeds grow in each of the three segments of a capsule; the ovary of an Aloe flower being ovate and six-grooved. In the photo some dry perianth remains still linger upon the capsules they helped to produce.

Of the about 600 recognised Aloe species on earth, about 20 that grow on Madagascar and the Mascarene islands (Mauritius, Réunion and Rodriguez) have different types of fruit: fleshy berries that become woody and don’t quite dry out. This group is sometimes not recognised as aloes species and classified separately in a genus called Lomatophyllum. Their leaves and flowers look like those of aloes.

The leaf surfaces of the A. ferox in picture have no spines. Only the margins have hard reddish teeth, evenly spaced from base to tip. A short row of spines is, however, found on the keel ridge upon the lower leaf surface near its tip, as can be observed on the one leaf angled suitably in the photo for this to be visible (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox in the Rooiberg

The Aloe ferox specific name of ferox meaning fierce or warlike in Latin was bestowed in recognition of the warning contained in the unyielding brownish red teeth on the leaf margins, as well as spines on both surfaces of the leaf blades of some specimens. Most plants reach heights of 2 m to 3 m, rarely above 5 m. There may be 50 to 60 leaves per rosette, a leaf being up to 1 m in length and 15 cm wide at the base.

Leaf colour is dull green, sometimes with a reddish tinge. The leaf curvature may be S-shaped as here: close to the base there is an upwards curve and a second downwards one nearer the tip. Southern Cape plants like these, however, often only show the single, lower curve that goes upwards. The KwaZulu-Natal form that used to be known as A. candelabrum is more likely to have full S-curve leaves. 

Tall stems may have a smooth section at the base where leaf remains had naturally dropped off over time completely (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Reynolds, 1974).


Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox standing in contrast

Aloes and some other big succulents may bring a very different appearance to a strip of veld by contrasting the common growth habits of predominating species. The survival solution of many plants in semi-arid vegetation lies in thousands of small, grey, hairy leaves.

These bold, in your face, erect succulent structures conserve their own moisture resources rather than concentrating only on reduction of evaporation. They defend themselves against herbivores in a physically assertive, even pugnacious manner, as well as by leaf taste.

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox variations in inflorescence

The red and orange flowers of Aloe ferox in this photo taken in May in the Rooiberg are common. Yellow and brownish flowered specimens are also often seen, but the white form is rare.

Only one panicle of usually four to eight racemes per rosette appears every flowering season (Coates Palgrave, 2002; Reynolds, 1974)

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Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe ferox young leaf rosette

The young leaf rosette of Aloe ferox has thick, pointed leaves bearing spines only on the margins. Leaves are angled up, although a few tips hint at deviating downwards from straight while others curve in slightly.

The evenly spaced rows of spines have some curious gaps near most stem-tips. Some keel spines, also off-centre ones, are visible near the leaf-tip on lower surfaces. The concave upper leaf surfaces are enhanced by some exaggerated marginal upturning in some leaves, resembling the lower jaw of a crocodile.

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