Photo: Jack Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe polyphylla

The environment within which Aloe polyphylla grows is atypical of southern Africa. The bleak, misty Maluti Mountains of western Lesotho are quite unsuitable for most of the other Aloe species of this generally Aloe rich region. The climatic conditions conducive to A. polyphylla are hard to replicate in most gardens, as many who have planted this Aloe have discovered to their dismay. It is best not to attempt growing endangered or vulnerable plants in conditions where the probability of success is low. Personal frustration can be avoided and plants can be saved to boost low population numbers.

This specimen, however, is thriving in the Botanical Garden of Melbourne in Australia where the species has become popular. Leaf colour can here be seen to be more yellowish green than on the plants photographed in their Lesotho habitat. Interesting to note here also is the opposite spiralling displayed by the two plants in picture.

It may also be that a form of A. polyphylla has managed wider adaptation to different growing conditions, partly refuting the above statement that discourages gardening challenges: It is by attempting new challenges after all that developmental breakthroughs are achieved. Caution from logic and experience will help judgment. 

Culture has less time to achieve success than nature. The endless, blind experimentation attempting everything in nature is impervious to adversity. The millions of random failures without ever losing patience or resolve, is not for people. They don’t last that long and can’t sustain intentionality that long (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969).

(Also see the entry on this Aloe in the Mountains Album under Habitat.)

Photo: Jack Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe polyphylla twisting pattern in the leaf rosette

The twisting pattern in the leaf rosette of the spiral aloe or Aloe polyphylla is special, due to the larger number of leaves found here than in other Aloe species that display the phenomenon. Five dense spiral arrays of leaves emanate from the centre as the plant grows. The arrangement may spiral clockwise or anticlockwise.

The pattern is neat and regular enough to inculcate a love of geometry in some observers. Fibonacci number sequences come to mind. They provide fitting descriptions of many such phenomena in the biological domain, although the spirals in this case do not match Fibonacci numbers, but adhere to the pattern of a different mathematical series. Regular leaf patterns can sometimes be matched with the pattern in some or other numerical series. Similar spirals are found in certain shell and seed shapes. Another example of such a series, Lucas Numbers, also describes some of the regular patterns found in nature. Patterns consistent with Fibonacci series are the most common though. Much fun can be had from exploring number series like Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio (about 1.618034), by which consecutive numbers increase in the series. Go Google!

Whether one becomes fascinated by the numbers or not, biological examples like this leaf rosette hold their beauty in the simple regularity, their magic in the regularity of acceleration (Wikipedia;

Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe polyphylla leaves

Aloe polyphylla produces many leaves as the name indicates. It is not used for filling cracks in walls as is the eponymous builder’s product!

The short and broad leaves are almost triangular in shape; just bulging a bit along their sides. The two (almost?) equal margins of the nearly isosceles triangle are visible most of the way, hiding at the bottom with the base of the triangle below.

Leaf colour is grey-green to blue-green. The leaf tips soon dry out from the original pale orange or cream to the purplish black seen here above narrow, creamy yellow transitional bands. The markedly off-centre cartilaginous leaf keels on the lower (outer) leaf surfaces are clearly in evidence here. They may have a few spines similar to the teeth on the margins. The bias in the keels accentuate the spirals in the rosette pattern, raising the question as to whether the leaf margins are truly equal. Leaf margins have cartilaginous ridges where the spaced and short, cream coloured teeth can be seen. Parts of the margins may have toothless intervals in an irregular pattern.

The leaf sap of this Aloe is clear. The rosette reaches a height of 50 cm and may measure 80 cm across (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003; Jeppe, 1969; Reynolds, 1974)

Aloe polyphylla in Australia

Marketed widely in Australia, the spiral aloe or Lesotho’s Aloe polyphylla does very well there. The grey bloom on the smooth outer leaf surfaces makes way for dark green colouring in parts, the margins toothed and yellowish.

Many leaves in picture have no marginal teeth near the leaf tips. The tip itself is spiny, sometimes turned black on older leaves. The leaf keels are strongly off-centre, similar to those in some Gasteria species.

Photo: Ivan Latti

Author: Ivan Latti

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