Aloe polyphylla

Botanical name

Aloe polyphylla

Other names

Spiral aloe; kroonaalwyn (Afrikaans); lekhala kharatsa (seSotho)

Family 

Asphodelaceae

Dimensions

A stemless aloe with a wide, single rosette, having comparatively many leaves in the mature phase as the name indicates; the characteristic and attractive spiral leaf pattern is notable; the spiralling becomes distinctly evident once the rosette is about 25 cm in diameter; a rosette can exceed 50 cm in diameter

Description of stem

Absent; does not produce sucker off-shoots

Description of leaves

Comparatively short, squat leaves of up to 30 cm; smooth grey-green to sometimes yellow-green leaves with sharp, irregular marginal teeth and a distinctive dark to black spike at the apex; often displays a keel (ridge) on the outer leaf surface, positioned off-centre; the leaves in a mature plant are arranged in five spiralling ranks, in either clockwise or anticlockwise formation

Description of flowers

The inflorescence is up to 60 cm tall, branching just above the rosette into several erect racemes; long, pink or pale red perianths pointing obliquely upwards during the bud stage, pendulous when open; the raceme is capitate; flowering occurs in spring (a USA record of flowering in autumn has been noted)

Desciption of seed/fruit

 

Description of roots

 

Variation

 

Propagation and cultivation

Grown from seed with reasonable success, seed germination in vitro in agar or gelatin has been mentioned; said to not be lasting well in cultivation, especially when grown from tissue culture; needs water, comparatively low temperatures and care with the soil mix, (pot mix with orchid bark and washed pumice mentioned);  does not readily flower in cultivation; when grown at lower altitudes it may be attacked by more pests

Tolerances

Adapted to a special wet, cold, montane habitat that is hard to replicate

Uses

Popular garden plant, although not easily made to flourish; may be used in indigenous medicine

Ecological rarity

Threatened by collectors' ardour compounded by local population selling of specimens from the natural habitat; threat from agricultural activities has also been mentioned; CITES listed as endangered

Pests and diseases

 

Other

Grown in Southern Australia with more success than in South Africa? Some USA growers also have success, one reported flowering within six years from germination; the flowers are said to be pollinated by the malachite sunbird, another endangered species!

Location

High altitude grassy mountain slopes in high rainfall, misty areas, often covered by winter snow; not conditions easily replicated in many gardens

Distribution

Mountainous areas of Lesotho; possibly in SA border areas of Free State and Kwazulu-Natal

Country

Lesotho, South Africa

 

Category: Aloes

Botanical Gardens