Aloe succotrina rosette

Aloe succotrina forms robust clumps of its very attractive rosettes with their erect, grey-green leaves and the light coloured teeth that only occur on the cartilaginous marginal border. The leaves are occasionally spotted. The plant is stemless when young and develops procumbent stems of up to a metre in some mature plants. Flowers are red to pink, blooming on single or once branched conical racemes in late winter.

As far as gardening is concerned, apart from its popularity in the winter rainfall area (it does not relish the summer rainfall gardens), this plant is recorded as providing a good purple dye from its leaf sap (Van Wyk and Gericke, 2007; Jeppe, 1969).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe succotrina buds emerging from the rosette

The peduncle of an Aloe succotrina inflorescence is a straight, sturdy and erect column, here brownish green in colour. Its inside surface is flat, the outside convex. There are spaced and scattered papery sterile bracts upon the peduncle surface below the inflorescence.

In the photo additional inflorescences are emerging from the rosette centre, the base of the older one a little further out still live and green, belonging to the same season as the beginners. A multitude of underdeveloped buds, already recognised as separate yet compactly held together as the inflorescence starts off, form a smooth-surfaced, snake-like head that will rise imperceptibly above the foliage and announce its presence.

The whitish margins and almost regular, prickly teeth of a leaf tip seen from above resemble the lower jaw of a sea creature that might arise in the imagination from waters best avoided (Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe succotrina flowering

The dense clump of ground-level leaf rosettes of Aloe succotrina is a feature of this plant in all seasons, the blooms adding their annual enhancement. The narrow leaves point up, particularly in the central part of the clump.

The typical single raceme inflorescences of A. succotrina do not predominate on this plant. Branching into two-raceme panicles may be more likely when the conditions in the garden are favourable as here (Reynolds, 1974; Jeppe, 1969)

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe succotrina flowers

Aloe succotrina, a Western Cape aloe, growing on fynbos mountain slopes and close to the sea from the Cape Peninsula to Mossel Bay, was named after the Yemen island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa. This happened because the plant's origin was thought to have been there. 

This was the first aloe believed to have been grown in Europe, with a recorded flowering in Amsterdam during 1689. The correction in the literature dates back only to 1906 (www.plantzafrica.com), but such errors tend not to cause name changes or corrections, as the oldest written record is the one that is kept.

Socotra itself has fame as the endemic home of more than two hundred interesting or remarkable plant species, including some aloes used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Although this aloe does not deserve the name, it serves to remind of early human involvement with mastering plant knowledge; and of the botanical significance of the rarely visited island of Socotra.

There is, for instance, the dragon blood tree on Socotra, Dracaena cinnabari, an umbrella shaped tree with red sap that had been used in olden times as a dye and medicine, but even today is used as a varnish and paint.

According to Chung Ki Sung in his PhD dissertation in the School of Pharmacy at Chonnam National University, Alexander the Great conquered Socotra to obtain aloe medicines there for the treatment of his soldiers (Wikipedia).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe succotrina, a misnomer

This Western Cape fynbos aloe bears the name Aloe succotrina due to a naming error of long ago. The story goes that for many years Dutch ships passing the Cape and other stopovers to the East, took on board collected plant material from several sites, including Socotra and the Cape Colony. This was transported to Europe where considerable interest had been generated in foreign plants in the early seafaring days. On one occasion the sailors mixed up some samples on board ship, causing the bergaalwyn of the Cape to be named inappropriately, indicating Socotra as its place of origin.

Yemen may not be a popular tourist destination in our times. Pirates of the high seas are back to endanger those that come close. The difficulty of visiting Socotra could, however, also be seen as a botanical blessing: The remarkable preservation capacity of natural plant species of the island lies in its inaccessibility. Just compare the many over-trodden popular sites on the earth that have become depleted of their endemic vegetation! Socotra has a population of only 40 000 people and hardly any roads. A third of plant species on Socotra are endemic and still there. No wonder the island is sometimes called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.

Already in ancient times the island plants were renowned for their healing capacity. For instance, Alexander the Great is said to have sent a ship to Socotra for collecting plant material to treat his wounded and sick soldiers, before proceeding on his campaign to the east in about 332 BC (Wikipedia; www.binscorner.com).

Aloe succotrina laden with fruit

The green fruit capsules of Aloe succotrina are still partly covered in the withered remains of some perianths and even stamens on this plant that was photographed early in September in Hermanus. Each ovoid green fruit comprising three vertical sections is held erect by long pedicels, already turning yellow and orange here. The blooming season for the species sometimes continues through September, but this early raceme is well past that stage.

The characteristic white marginal teeth of A. succotrina leaves can be observed on the leaf tips in picture (Manning, 2007).

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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