Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe longistyla

Aloe longistyla, commonly called ramenas or Karoo aloe, is a stemless, short-lived leaf succulent, in flower reaching heights around 20 cm.

The inflorescence is an unbranched, compact, cone-shaped raceme, sometimes occurring in pairs per rosette, simultaneously or successively. From 40 to 50 flowers are borne per raceme.

The tips of the congested buds are hooked upwards, the perianths curving up in their upper third. The orange-red or salmon-pink flowers ascend, their stamens well exserted.

The specific name, longistyla, refers to the long, conspicuously exserted style. This style becomes up to 7,5 cm long, the longest among South African aloes.

The species is distributed in the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape from Calitzdorp where the photo was taken to Laingsburg, Middelburg, Cradock and inland from Grahamstown.

The habitat is Nama Karoo and succulent Karoo where the plants grow scattered in arid, karoid scrubland. They take to loam or sandy soils on stony flats and gentle slopes under bigger plants, typically Karoo bushes. The plants cope with wide temperature variations and low (mainly summer) rainfall.

It is unclear how this Aloe is faring in nature early in the twenty first century, due to data deficiency concerning the extent of livestock grazing (in some places overgrazing) in its habitat and plant numbers involved in collections.

Although people too often remove these aloes from their habitat, the plants do not perform well in cultivation, causing unnecessary plant deaths (Vlok and Schutte-Vlok, 2010; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969; http://redlist.sanbi.org).

 

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe longistyla cohesive community

This dense stand of Aloe longistyla cohabiting with a Glottiphyllum was seen on Jakkalskop at Calitzdorp during September. Some of these rosettes may represent individual plants while others may be branched from the same stem. A. longistyla often branches into two or three leaf rosettes, rarely in clusters of up to ten.

One of the risks this species faces in nature is illegal plant collections, as clearly happened here. The greedy collectors are unlikely to have success with this Aloe as it fares poorly in cultivation. Some may still be sold before they die, as such a rosette can be potted for the market to die slowly, by which time it is hard to reverse the transaction.

Over-grazing in the Karoo plays its part in the survival risk of the species. Drought is another factor that interacts with farming practices. Severe and prolonged droughts seem to occur more frequently these days in big parts of inland South Africa (Vlok and Schutte-Vlok, 2010; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969).

Aloe longistyla fruit capsule husks

The dry, pale brown, rounded husks of Aloe longistyla fruit capsules have opened here, displaying some pale and empty inner partitioning. The upper capsule in view has lost one of its three covering parts, leaving a big gap on the camera side.

Although A. longistyla is a comparatively small plant, these fruit capsules are large, as are the seeds, already dispersed. The perianth tubes or flowers of this plant are also large.

The peduncle of the inflorescence is thick, surprisingly so for its limited length. Some dark brown, acutely pointed, dry bracts are visible on the stem. A bract earlier subtended each individual flower, while a few sterile ones grow on the stem below the flowers, still protruding from this stalk (Vlok and Schutte-Vlok, 2010; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969).

 

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe longistyla leaf spines

These spaced, cartilaginous spines near Aloe longistyla leaf-tips are firm and yellowish with some translucence. The hard or soft spines may also be white. They have thickened bases and incurving tips. The spines become about 4 mm long and are roughly 5 mm apart.

The leaf-tip ends in a straight spine (Vlok and Schutte-Vlok, 2010; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969).

 

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe longistyla leaves

The succulent, narrow leaves of Aloe longistyla are densely arranged in an incurving rosette. Both surfaces are convex. Sparsely scattered spines are present on both surfaces, on the margins and a keel on the outside near the tip.

The blue-grey leaves are covered in a waxy bloom or surface layer. The leaf sap is honey-coloured.

The leaf becomes about 15 cm long and 3 cm wide near the base. There are about 20 to 30 leaves per rosette (Vlok and Schutte-Vlok, 2010; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969).

 

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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