Also Known As: Spiny Aloe, Uitenhage Aloe
Category: Single Head Tree Aloes
USDA Hardiness Zones: 9b - 11
OverviewAloe africana is a handsome aloe native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa which adapts to a wide range of conditions. Although branching specimens are not unheard-of, Aloe africana is normally a single-stemmed plant, with a rosette of waxy, blue-green leaves with reddish spines along the edges reaching a height of up to 13 ft. (4 m). Aloe africana's striking yellow flowers attract bees and hummingbirds from all around.
DescriptionThe plant grows moderately slow and flowers when it is four to five years old. The thin, narrow, recurved, leaves are more messy or disorderly than the neat symmetrical rosettes of other arborescent Aloe species. Each leaf's margins and lower side are armed with lines of small, reddish teeth. The grayish-green leaves crowded in a dense, apical rosette, 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. Eventually, this 6’ plus tall Aloe will form a trunk under a skirt of desiccating leaves.
FloweringThe plants grow slowly and reach the flowering stage in 4 to 5 years. Bears deep orange buds that open to a light orange or yellow flower. Flowers mostly from mid to late winter, and early spring. The individual flowers are held in a downward inclination but uniquely turn upwards towards the tips. Its large raceme is erect and may be unbranched or have up to four branches, and has tubular flowers. They are are orange in bud and turn yellow just prior to opening from the bottom of the spike upwards. 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. These torch-like blooms are attractive to hummingbirds and compliment the grey green leaves, which are armed with many dark thorns.
Origin / HistoryAloe africana is native to the summer moist coastal Eastern Cape in South Africa where it grows within thickets of shrubs from sea level to nearly 1,000 feet in elevation. It was described in 1768 by the Scottish botanist Philip Miller, who was also the chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden. It was grown in Europe prior to when many other aloes were described and before Linnaeus establishing the binominal classification system we currently use. The specific epithet that Miller gave it is simply in reference its African origins. The common name Uitenhage Aloe used in South Africa comes from a locality, the Uitenhage District, where this plant is plentiful. The climate is moderate, without frost, and hot and humid during summers. Aloe africana is restricted to the southeastern and southwestern part of South Africa, in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and is particularly common near Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and the lower Gamtoos River. It often grows in association with Aloe ferox, A. pluridens and A. speciosa, and hybrids are not uncommon.
Care / CultivationAloe africana prefers full sun in a well-drained sandy, soil. 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. Tolerant of hot sun, drought, wind, deer, salt spray and a wide range of soils. Over-watering can cause fungal infections. It thrives in a wide range of soil and even grows well in the winter rainfall Western Cape gardens where it should preferably be moistened during the dry summer months. The plants are fairly pest free, but may occasionally be attacked by the aloe snout weevil.
Frost TendernessCold hardiness is slightly better than average. 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. In cold weather the leaves are tinged with red.
Use in the GardenA single-headed species which develops a trunk and can be used as a focal point like a small tree aloe and underplanted with other succulents. Keep it back from the path as the teeth are sharp and catch clothing and cut the skin but in flower it is sensational and also very attractive to bees and hummingbirds. Aloe africana thrives in coastal gardens but also as a pot or container plant. The plants prefer full sun and windy conditions. They are tolerant towards other plant species and often share their habitat with smaller succulent plants. Plants will benefit from compost or any organic feeding.
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