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Plant Highlight: Aloe africana

February 2018

South Africa has quite a few single-headed species of Aloe which develop a trunk and make dramatic focal points in the garden. One of these is Aloe africana, native to the Eastern Cape Province in the area around Port Elizabeth.

Although branching specimens are not unheard-of, Aloe africana is normally a single-stemmed plant, reaching a height of up to 13 ft. (4 m). The grayish-green leaves are 2 feet or so in length (up to 65 cm), spreading outward and then curving downward toward the tapered tips. In shady positions the leaves are greener, and under dry conditions they can take on a purplish or pinkish tinge. Below the rosette of leaves, the trunk is covered by the dried older leaves.

Winter is the peak blooming time for A. africana, but its flowering is not as predictable as other trunk-forming aloes, so that an occasional flower stalk may emerge at almost any time of year. Young plants have flower stalks without branches, but older plants typically have one or more side branches, with exceptional plants having as many as four. Like the central stalk, each side branch is topped by a steeple-like spire of closely-packed tubular flowers, red-orange at the bud stage, and lightening to yellow or yellow-orange when they open.

Compared to other aloe flowers, these are quite long, often over 2 inches (50 mm). The flowers are angled downward for most of their length, but then turn outward at the mouth, giving them a unique “ski-jump” profile.

Aloe africana very rarely experiences below-freezing temperatures in its habitat, but in cultivation it can withstand cold spells down to the mid-twenties F (-4° C) as long as this is not sustained. It does very well in milder coastal climate zones, but should be protected from cold snaps in inland locations where the winter lows are more pronounced.