Colour, nectar and medicine from aloes

2008-06-05 00:00

Aloe arborescens is part of the multi-stemmed group of aloes. It has large blue-grey succulent leaves and reaches up to two to three metres high with beautiful spikes of brilliant red or orange. Other colour forms are pure yellow and an unusual bi-coloured form of orange and red. Also known as the Krantz aloe, it flowers profusely during the winter months from May to July.

The beautiful flowers of the Krantz aloe produce an abundance of nectar, attracting not only sunbirds, but also the Crested Barbet, Cape White-Eye, Blackheaded Oriole, Streaky-headed Canary, Blackeyed Bulbul and the Grey Lourie. Wood-hoopoes probe for insects under the dead, dried leaves, with their long red beaks. The flowers also attract bees.

Aloe arborescens can be propagated from stem-end cuttings or branches. These cuttings need to be planted in well-drained soil or coarse river sand. Once the Krantz aloe cuttings have been planted, they need to be kept fairly dry to prevent rot. It is a fairly long and difficult process to grow aloes from seed. Sown in spring, the seed takes three to four weeks to germinate and the seedlings must be protected from frost when still young.

Aloe arborescens has been planted around kraals to form domestic stock enclosures (old kraals can still be seen today with the aloe persisting ). The Krantz aloe can also be situated on a bank to help control erosion. Cuttings of this aloe are sold in muthi shops and it is grown in domestic gardens as a convenient first aid treatment for burns and abrasions. The leaf gel is also used as a tonic and an ingredient in cosmetic products.

The Krantz aloe is fast growing and problem free. It requires well-drained, compost-enriched soil and can tolerate moderate frost but is sensitive to severe frost. Aloe arborescens is naturally distributed in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. It grows mainly in mountainous areas, occasionally in dense bush or on exposed ridges or krantzes.

• Sonja van der Merwe is an indigenous plant enthusiast and owner of Springvale Nursery and Gardening. She can be contacted at 033 212 4704 or by e-mail at springvalenursery@lantic.net Alternatively you can visit www.indigenousnursery.co.za

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