What does our lovely Cape aloe look like? It is a tall, (one might say imposing) single-stemmed aloe, that can grow up to 10 feet (3.0 m) in height. (It would even tower over the Springbok forwards!) It’s leaves are thick and fleshy, arranged in rosettes, and have reddish-brown spines on the margins with smaller spines on the upper and lower surfaces. These spines are to protect the aloe from grazing animals, which is why younger aloes are spinier, when they are more vulnerable. As they get taller, the leaves begin to lose most of their spines except for those along their sides. They don’t need spines to protect from people snacking on them – the leaves’ unique and valuable bitter sap really is mouth-puckeringly bitter. Like an extra-strength malaria pill!
The aloes annually dress themselves up in beautiful orange or red flowers, which rise between 2 and 4 feet (0.6 and 1.2 m) above the leaves, in multi-branched inflorescences. (An impressive way to say “a group or cluster of flowers on stems”!) The flowering aloes forms a lovely display between May and August – in colder parts of the country this may be delayed until September. In the wild, monkeys and baboons will raid the aloes for nectar, and everywhere our feathered friends will be visiting the aloe bars for a few shooters as well. Among the many bird species dropping by for a “kuier” are sunbirds, weavers, glossy starlings and mousebirds. Naturally insects also love to visit the flowers, which in turn brings yet more birds. So, if you love birds (and plants with character), consider an aloe or two for your garden. They are truly South African – very hardy and adaptable to many conditions.