Aloe thraskii

Gardens along the South African coastline display many outstanding specimens of Aloe thraskii. The common height they reach is around 2 m, but occasionally plants in excess of 4 m are seen. This is one of the recognised South African tree aloes (SA Tree List No. 30.7).

The fruits looking black at this stage are maturing, preparing the thousands of seeds inside for flight, once they are dry and their capsules burst at the seams. Their positioning offers a perfect presentation to the south-easterly wind that will blow in the season when this happens.

The “bearded” appearance of persistent dry leaves on the stem below the leaf rosette does not quite reach the ground on this plant. The oldest live leaves gradually sag down closer to the stem, to lie eventually on top of their predecessors, keeping the stem well covered and providing housing to insect, spider and snake.

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe thraskii buds

The buds of this mature Aloe thraskii plant, flowering in midwinter in the Walker Bay area, are ready for opening one by one, starting from the lowest ones on each raceme. The number of racemes on the inflorescence, the number of flowers per raceme and eventually the number of seeds borne within each flower’s fruit capsule, indicate that seed production is serious business here.

In this built-up environment it is, however, quite possible that not one of the seeds to be released in a few months here will get a chance to germinate. This will not discourage the plant’s vigorous effort though!

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Photo: Ivan Latti

Aloe thraskii flowers

The flower colour of Aloe thraskii is between yellow and orange, a colour reminding of honey. A mature plant may produce three or four separate panicles with 25 or more racemes. The peduncle, the stem of the inflorescence is stout, green and flattened lower down, more rounded at the point where it begins to branch. There are dry, membranous bracts spaced on the peduncle below the flowers. The racemes are erect, broadly cylindrical and densely flowered. The buds lose their green tinge as they open. The perianth or individual flower is about 2,5 cm in length, becoming slightly wider towards its mouth.

The group of three inner stamens found in each flower is exserted before the three outer ones. This lengthens the season of pollen presentation, increasing the probability of viable seed production. The filaments or stalks of the stamens are flattened and have a pale lemon colour inside the perianth, while the exserted parts become orange and turn upwards for meeting the pollinators once the pollen is ripe. The stigma is also exserted, the style remaining on the ovary when the corolla segments of the perianth die (Reynolds, 1974).

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe thraskii fruit capsules

Aloe thraskii, the dune aloe, grows close to the sea in southern KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape among the natural scrub on sandy soil. The downward leaf curvature on the long elegant leaves with their U-shaped, furrowed upper surfaces creates a stunning look, even when the yellow flower panicle is absent. Expect the flowers in winter. 

These fruit capsules were photographed in August at the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse where several impressive specimens adorn the garden.  This Aloe withstands excessive watering better than many of the other species of the genus that may rot in the wet.

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

Aloe thraskii in classic shape

Aloe thraskii grows in nature close to the sea in sandy soil, sometimes almost in sand alone. Reynolds (1974) tells a story about the first collection of this Aloe species, said to have occurred in the Free State in 1860, nogal! The only tall-stemmed Aloe occurring naturally in the Free State is A. ferox that grows near the Orange (Gariep) River.

Errors will slip into human endeavours of description, recording and logic, to be corrected by others, later in the network. Continual improvement in this knowledge will last until the interest of human society in plants dies or their civilization loses the capacity.

Unless a plant is lucky enough to survive humanity and another studious species arises…

Photo: Thabo Maphisa

Author: Ivan Latti

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