Aloe melanacantha

These Aloe melanacantha leaf rosettes were seen in the Goegap Nature Reserve in August. Flowering happens at the end of autumn and early winter but this clump may have skipped a season. The black thorns occur only on leaf margins and the upper part of the keel on the outside surface.


Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti


Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe melanacantha in habitat

To find Aloe melanacantha in habitat one has to travel to the coastal area of the Northern Cape or the north-western corner of the Western Cape. Namibians will also find it near the coast just north of the Gariep. The plant should be left in habitat as it usually dies when conditions deviate from the normal. The habitat is sandy soil and rocky slopes, such as seen in this photo. This species is one of four aloes first recorded during Simon van der Stel’s Namaqualand trip of 1685.

The stemless or short-stemmed rosette may be single as here, or form groups of up to about 10. Dry leaves are seen persisting low down on this old plant with procumbent stem, enjoying full sun for many years already among its protective rocks.

The narrowly triangular leaves curve inward, creating a well-rounded shape with emphasis on the daunting black spines. The spines may be straight, curve inwards or spread; everything possible to keep destructive forces at bay. Melanacantha means black thorns. The leaf colour is dull yellowish green to dark green.

The inflorescence of A. melanacantha is usually single, up to 1 m tall with a brown peduncle that is flat lower down. The densely flowered raceme is brightly scarlet-red, perianth tubes turning yellow upon opening. Most flowers are seen early in winter (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974).


Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe melanacantha young leaf rosette

This young leaf rosette of Aloe melanacantha has white spines on its leaf margins. Still indoors, protected in coddled cultivation conditions, the blackening of the spines (to live up to the melanacantha specific name) has yet to come. Especially the upper spines that grow longer and are more widely spaced are noted for their very dark colour in this Aloe.

The spacing of the still short, triangular (deltoid) spines is irregular, and so are their sizes. Some of the spines will reach 1 cm in length, but that comes later. Not visible in this photo taken from above, the leaf keels also have spines. About six of them form a row at the back of the leaf; short ones near the base, progressively longer towards the leaf tips.

The narrowly triangular and thickly succulent leaves bulge convexly on their upper surfaces here, not showing the channelled upper surface of old rosettes. The curving in of the leaf tips to form the characteristic ball-shaped rosette has not begun yet. Mature leaves become 20 cm long, 4 cm wide at the base.

The plant is commonly known as goree in the heartland of its distribution, Namaqualand and the Richtersveld (Reynolds, 1974).


Photo: Jack Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe melanacantha, the goree

The plant is commonly known as goree in the heartland of its distribution, Namaqualand and the Richtersveld (Reynolds, 1974).

The typical yellow-green of the rough-surfaced Aloe melanacantha leaves is lost on the lowest live leaves as they become marred from losing their sap. Old leaves remain, gradually joining the persistent dead ones around the rosette bases where they conceal the short, branched stems from sight.

The dead leaves harden into woody shields, retaining their position at the base of the ball-shaped rosette here, unlike some other Aloe species on which dead leaves distort randomly with desiccation.

The spines on the margins and keels in picture are pale yellow when young, black when old (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

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