Aloe arborescens

Tamara shares her second entry with us today. She writes:

The photographs today show Aloe arborescens in two native habitats in Mozambique. Thank you to Ton Rulkens (aka tonrulkens@Flickr), a long-time BPotD contributor, who shared these images of Aloe arborescens growing in the wild (image 1 | image 2).

This stunning branching aloe has an extensive range. It is also one of the most widely cultivated aloes in the world. Aloe arborescens is distributed natively throughout the southeastern part of Africa, including South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Its natural habitats are rocky outcrops and ridges, but this succulent is adapted to many growing conditions and can be found from coastal elevations to mountaintops. Its common names include krantz aloe and candelabra aloe.

Aloe arborescens is a particularly large aloe, reaching a height of 2-3m (arborescens means “tree-forming” in Latin). The tall, sprawling branches are topped with a rosette of spiked, fleshy leaves, and from these rosettes grow showy scarlet racemes that are frequented by bees, butterflies, and sunbirds of southeastern Africa. Like the popular Aloe vera, Aloe arborescens has a variety of traditional and medicinal uses. A 2009 literature review published in Economic Botany found 47 documented uses of krantz aloe; these include healing wounds, improving circulation, improving food as an additive, and healing through antibacterial properties.

One of the most interesting cultural applications of Aloe arborescens is its use in traditional southern African kraals, or livestock enclosures. These are made by densely planting this species to form a corral. Krantz aloe has a few characteristics that make it highly desirable for such a use. Firstly, this aloe grows easily from cuttings, so establishing a new kraal takes little more than placing slightly dried leaf cuttings into the ground. Secondly, pruning of the branches initiates vigorous regrowth, so any leaves that are damaged by livestock are quickly replenished. Finally, the height and density of Aloe arborescens ensures that livestock remain in their pens. Surprisingly, long-abandoned kraals remain in the landscape for decades (or even a century!) because of Aloe arborescens persistence. Living aloe fences have been adapted for modern use as fire breaks in arid parts of the USA, Australia, and the Mediterranean. An informative article (via the web site about constructing such fire breaks compares krantz aloe fences to “a wall of water”; even if you don’t have the time to read the entire article, make sure to take a quick peek at this incredible image of one such wall in full bloom.

Aloe arborescens
Aloe arborescens

9 responses to “Aloe arborescens”

  1. Keith Nevison

    Nice write-up. A beautiful and useful plant!

  2. Gregory Gatwood

    What a lovely aloe. For years I have been training individual Aloe aborescens as single trunk specimens and they are very exotic looking. They look a little palm like and when they bloom they are the most unique plant imaginable. Thanks for the article,the picture of ‘the wall of water’ is just amazing.

  3. Wendy

    A fascinating write up. Today I feel quite the globetrotter, Africa, North America. And what colorful sights! Iridescent birds and walls of water with blossoms like fire. SO satisfying. How can the day begin better? Thank you!

  4. Pat

    The name in Xhosa and Zulu is inkalane.

  5. Pat

    Back from work so I can add that a name for this plant in Mozambique, in the Xironga language, is chitsete.
    I think it is a little unfair to mention the medicinal qualities of a plant used for long before the invasion but only mention names used by invaders from Europe.
    I got the name inkalane from my copy of Medicinal Plants of South Africa by van Wyk, van Oudtshoorn and Gericke.

  6. Wendy Cutler

    Thanks for the link to the fire break photo – so different from the thin line of plants that I was imagining.
    This was an interesting read, and I always like seeing Ton’s photos.

  7. robin day

    Wonder if this is the red Aloe I am seeing in Quito Ecuador? It is very popular with hummingbirds.

  8. Ton Rulkens

    A very interesting type of traditional use of Aloe arborescens – leaves in the mountainous areas of Mozambique is as a remedy to treat various poultry diseases (curative as well as preventive) – local people note a stronger action than most other Aloe species (A. chabaudii, A. cameronii, A. excelsa, the maculate Aloe’s) and without the poisonous side effects (Aloe decurva, A. marlothii). The leaves are pounded and mixed with the drinking water.

  9. rachel

    the flowers look a lot like kniphophia – i think they are both in the same family Xanthorrhoeaceae. i wonder if certain flower colors are more common in different parts of the world. for example, in the mid-atlantic states, it seems like yellow, white and purple are common colors

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