Twenty Nine Aloes.

 Aloe striata inflorescence.  Many A. striata available for sale in  Southern California are said to be "impure"--not the true species.  This may be  an "impure" form.

I realized suddenly with some alarm that I have close to thirty different Aloes.   Wow.  How did that happen?  Oops.

Anyway,  the alarming part was not all the Aloes so much as realizing I know very little about the genus.   They grow here very easily (except Aloe polyphylla, sigh) but I never had a thought about them other than:  "Hey!  That's a cool plant for sale.  And cheap!"   I'm trying as best I can to remedy my ignorance. 

Plants do not exist in a vacuum. They are a product of their climate and geography.

I had an opportunity to look at Guide To The Aloes Of South Africa, a good book, not easy to find.  It should be quickly noted that there are many, many Aloes not native to the country of South Africa--the genus occurs throughout a lot of mostly eastern continental Africa all the way into the Arabian peninsula, as well as on islands off east Africa, such as Socotra and Madagascar.  (I've already learned a  few things.)  However, South Africa is home to a good many species, an excellent subset to study.

2. Aloe labeled 'Buena Creek', an unremarkable hybrid of some sort

The book surveys Aloes by grouping them into ten types:  tree-forming (e.g., dichotoma), single stem (e.g., thraskii), multi-stem (e.g., ramossisima), and so on.  Each species occurrence is shown mapped within South Africa.  I realized while reading the book that I also needed to know more about South Africa's geography and climate.  I kept encountering words such as Karoo, The Drakensberg, Fynbos:  huh?  What's all that about?  I find there is nothing like making an effort to learn something for showing me how ignorant I am.

I grow many South African plants, from Aloes to Podocarpus to deliciously sweet Freesias, but have a huge blank in my knowledge base about the land and climate they come from.  Some searching around on the web gave me an impression of the source of these wonderful plants, but a good book is still better.  

3. Aloe 'Blue Elf', a California hybrid:

I have read many times that South Africa has the same Mediterranean climate as Southern California;  not realizing this Mediterranean climate is only a very small part of the country:  the extreme south western part, near Capetown.  Much of the country is a plateau with relatively high elevations.   Johannesburg, for example, at 5751 feet, is higher than Denver, Colorado.   The eastern half of the country gets more rainfall than the mostly arid western half.  There are high mountains like California's Sierra, and desert barrens, like California's Mojave.  There is a hot dry area moderated by the coastal fog from a cold ocean current, something like California's central coast.  In short, the climate is as diverse as that of California, and in some respects resembles it.

4. Aloe hardyi, which in nature grows from cracks in sheer rock cliffs, must far from home make do with slumping down my front slope:

Roughly (very roughly) the California analogy of the northwestern part of South Africa away from the coast is the Mojave Desert.  Drakensberg is something like the southern Sierras, with Podocarpus playing the role of our Redwoods.  Fynbos is somewhat akin to our own coastal chaparral, for among other similarities, many of the Fynbos plants use fire as part of their reproductive strategy, just as do some plants of the California chaparral.  Some parts of the South African west coast get a lot of ocean fog, like California's central coast.  Fynbos, incidentally, means "fine bush" referring to the needle-like foliage of many of the local plants.  Didn't know that, either. 

5. A. arborescens:

Even a vague understanding of South Africa's climate and geography means looking at Aloes a little differently.  They may not all belong on that roasting, blazing bright arid slope out in front of the house.  And I now have some clue as to why quite a few of the South African aloes are cold-hardy to the high 20s F--because of that higher elevation many are native to.   

6 & 7 A. Dichotoma, with A. plicatilis behind and to the right:

8. Aloe vanbalenii looking rather bad right now because I moved it, but it seems to be recovering.  This Aloe is found in KwaZulu-Natal and part of Mpumalanga which are in the north eastern part of South Africa.  The area is watered by summer thunderstorms, thus A. vanbalenii is a summer grower, unlike many Aloes that are winter growers.  

9. The Aloe I must call "iforgetii"--might be A. humilis

10 A. ellenbeckii:

11. A. tauri:

12 A happy camperi:

13 A. greatheadii:

14 A. marlothii:

15 A. ferox, maybe (we'll find out when it blooms):  It is indeed A. ferox.

16 A. megalacantha is from Ethiopia:

17 A. 'Cynthia Gitty':

18 A. gariepensis is from an extremely arid area of western South Africa. 

19 A cameronii, (supposedly):

20 A. x 'Nobilis' (variegated), a hybrid of uncertain ancestry

21 The petite A. brevifolia:

22. A. suprafoliata, found in areas with considerable rainfall (40" !!)

23 A. 'Hercules', a hybrid of A. barbarae and A. dichotoma commonly found in the wild:

24, 25, 26 A. variegata, A. microstigma, and A. pseudorubroviolacaea, which is from the Arabian penninsula:

27 A. deltoideodonta var. cadicans fallax (Madagascar):

All this better-understanding stuff. I'm going to be more wary about my plant shopping in the future, lest I am forced to learn yet more new things.

28. A. 'Fire Ranch' not a bad hybrid, there on the left hand side:

Almost forgot my polyphylla...wish it looked better, but it is alive. This is a sub-alpine or nearly alpine plant. It has been found growing at altitudes of over 11,000 feet, and may spend the winter covered with snow. Coastal Southern California is an alien land for this poor plant.

29. A. polyphylla, time to reassess and repot.


  1. Envy inducing collection! So what will #30 be? Is there one you're now on the hunt for? (having read the book).

  2. That is an impressive collection!

  3. Thanks Danger and Sheila! Very tempting are both A. thraskii, a coastal sand dune dweller of elegant sweeping shape, and A. peglerae, which is a symmetrical incurved globe with a bold inflorescence, and...on and on. I must restrain myself.

  4. Thanks Hoover - You helped me ID several of my aloes. Most were passalongs or bargain buys without tags. You saved me from planting Cynthia Giddy in a bed that is much too small for it's eventual size. I covet A.thraskii after seeing David Feix's flicker albums. I checked Rancho Soledad and I'd have to mortgage the house to buy it!

  5. Hi Kathleen,

    Those tree Aloes grow faster than you would think. My dichotoma was just a foot tall, now it is over 4 in just 3 years...

  6. My problem is...I would mess up taking a picture of a concrete block...honestly. I do love viewing God's creation as captured through the camera of others and you have done that quite well. I have added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit my blog and become a follower also.

  7. Amazing how a genus accumulates in a garden! That big marlothii and Hercules really grab my attention. I barely get a good look around Calif, yet I still want to get to the Cape of So. Africa some day. Great post, Hoov.


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