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Plant Highlight: Aloe lutescens

March 2003

Aloe lutescens is a species from the far north of South Africa, just south of the Limpopo River, which forms the boundary with Zimbabwe.  It is a close relative of Aloe cryptopoda and Aloe wickensii, considered by some botanists to be variants of the same species although they were originally described separately.  Both are also present in the garden, and they are somewhat larger plants and don’t offset as much as A. lutescens, which has formed an impressive clump over the years.  Aloe lutescens has narrow steeple-like racemes of flowers, typically with 2 side branches on either side of the central stalk.  The buds are bright red, while the open flowers turn pale yellow, giving the racemes a striking bi-colored effect.  This color combination is much like that found in A. wickensii, though it usually displays a shade of red that is not so bright and its racemes are normally not as narrow and pointy as those of A. lutescens.  By contrast, A. cryptopoda typically has all-red racemes.  Like many other Aloes, A. lutescens is adapted to pollination by sunbirds, which perch on the flower-stalk just below the raceme and use their long bills to probe the tubular flowers for the clear, sweet nectar within— and pollinate the flowers in the process.  Here in California, hummingbirds are more than happy to take advantage of this nectar production, and are able to insert their bills and drink up while flying in place.

Aloe lutescens is located on the south edge of bed E, right at the middle.  During the winter months, it and its neighbors are covered by a large plastic protective frame whose edge alongside the path can be raised for viewing the plants within.  Aloe wickensii is at the north end of bed 9, at the base of the large Eucalyptus cephalocarpa.  It has its own 6-foot-square cover and is also in flower now.  Aloe cryptopoda is located on the east side of bed A, against the fence surrounding the Agave garden.  It flowers earlier, and is almost finished now.