Aloe speciosa

Aloe speciosa is usually a single stem plant with a tall erect trunk on mature plants. This Aloe reaches heights of 6 m. In the rare event of branching, as happened with the pictured specimen, it usually takes place right at the base when the seedlings initially form rosettes. Reynolds presented a photo of a plant with four branches growing near Fort Beaufort (1974).

The characteristic tilted head is evident in one of the two rosettes. The dead leaves do not drop off the stems, continuing to cover the lower parts of the trunk. This is a service of presenting free housing to a variety of small residents of the veld.

It is good to know that this Aloe species is not yet threatened. Speciosa means showy; a well deserved name. It also has an Afrikaans name among the locals, viz. slaphoringaalwyn (Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe speciosa as garden plant

Aloe speciosa is a popular garden plant. It is one of the single-stem aloes that may grow very tall. It thrives in bush habitat and river thickets from Swellendam to the Kei River where it reaches heights of around 6 m. On open land it normally only gets to half that height. It is occasionally branched at the base or up the stem.

The outstanding characteristics of this aloe are the elegantly shaped and slender, blue-green leaves, the tilt of the rosette to the north and the unusual flower. The flower is conical, has pinkish red buds that turn creamy white upon opening, when the dark stamens are also notably exserted. There are usually green lines along the length of the open perianth. Blooming occurs at the beginning of spring (Jeppe, 1969).

This Aloe is being grown from seed successfully in many warmer areas. It is frost sensitive but drought resistant, growing in various soil types and preferring sun (www.plantzafrica.com).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe speciosa inflorescence

The flowers of Aloe speciosa shown here have nearly lost all their red colour on the perianth buds. This is because they were nearly all open at the time the photo was taken in mid-August. The plant grows in the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden. Flowering in habitat normally occurs from July to September, the middle of the blooming season. Worcester is not too far west from Swellendam, the western extreme of the plant’s distribution area, to alter the growing conditions that much.

Several Aloe species have flowers that undergo colour changes when the buds open, often from red to yellow. In the case of A. speciosa the red is replaced by green with white stripes on fully opened perianths. The many red-brown or black exserted anthers on these racemes add their own dimension to the appearance. This feature is shared with many other Aloe species although in some cases the effect is not quite so striking.

In the picture three single racemes are displayed. A. speciosa racemes do not branch. There may be up to four on one rosette. The racemes are short (only about 50 cm) compared to e.g. A. ferox. The cylindrical shape seen here is sometimes more conical while the upper buds are not yet at full length. The stalk or peduncle of the raceme is about 20 cm long and usually hidden among the leaves. There are many brown sterile bracts spread across the surface of the peduncle (Reynolds, 1974; Van Wyk and Smith, 2003).

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