Plant Highlight: Aloe reitzii
The northeastern part of South Africa has many native species of Aloe, with the majority of them flowering in winter. However, there are also some that flower at other times of the year, including Aloe reitzii, from northeast of Johannesburg. This species, with its stemless rosettes of up-curved gray-green leaves, blooms at the end of summer to early autumn. Its spires of brilliant red or red-orange flowers provide a jolt of color at a time when few other species are flowering.
About the plant
Aloe reitzii is a single-headed species, generally stemless, although older plants may eventually develop a short stem. Mature specimens attain a diameter of about 3 feet (90 cm), with the leaves curving inward (especially under dry conditions, when the leaf tips tend to pull together to shield the growing tip). The leaf color is often gray-green, though it ranges from green to blue-green to silvery blue-gray. Young plants are especially blue-gray, and at this stage the leaves have many prickles on both surfaces, but these disappear as the plants mature. Leaves are up to 25 inches long (65 cm) and as much as 4¾ inches wide at the base (12 cm), gradually tapering to a pointed tip. The leaf margins have many small brown or reddish-brown teeth.
About the flowers
In habitat in South Africa, Aloe reitzii flowers in February and March, which is late summer to early autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. In cultivation in the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs at the opposite time of year; at the Ruth Bancroft Garden our plants generally come into bloom in September and end in late October to November. While younger plants start out with a single raceme of flowers, older plants typically have inflorescences with several branches (up to 6 racemes in robust specimens), and the height may be as much as 50 inches (1.3 m). The flowers are narrowly tubular, curved, and about 2 inches long (50 mm). They bend downward and are closely pressed against each other, hiding the stalk. They are a brilliant red or red-orange color, though the side towarsds the stalk, which is not visible, is lemon-yellow. Sometimes the oldest flowers in the raceme (the lower ones) may turn yellow all over, but this is not always true, and the racemes never have the pronounced bicolored appearance seen in some other species.
About the fruit
The seed capsules of Aloe reitzii are barrel-shaped and about an inch long (25 mm), clasped at the base by the dried remains of the flower that produced them. They reach maturity after 2 or 3 months, drying and splitting open to release the seeds.
Care and maintenance
Aloe reitzii is not a difficult species to grow if given a sunny position and good drainage. In habitat, it receives about 30 inches of rain (750 mm) in the summer months, while the winters are dry. In a winter-rainfall climate such as that of California, it must be given some water during the summer, and it will tolerate our wet winters as long as it has sufficiently sharp drainage. It can endure overnight lows down to the low 20’s F (-6° C), but not sustained freezes. Its brilliant spires of flowers in late summer to autumn make it a garden stand-out.
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