🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Grass Aloes in Tarlton

Watercolour sketch of a Grass Aloe - Maree©

Now is the time that, as soon as we've had our first veld-fires, these beautiful aloes will start flowering, covering the black landscape with their beautiful red flowers.

Grass Aloes are an appealing group of deciduous aloes. As the name implies, they grow mainly in grasslands subject to winter fires. They are able to survive both fire and frost during the cold dry months. Their leaves and colours resemble their habitat, making them difficult to find when not in flower. These largely miniature aloes have very attractive flowers, making them desirable, if difficult, plants to cultivate. Their growing pattern is closely related to the winter fire cycles of the veld, some species responding directly to burning and producing leaves, flowers and later seed after such events.

This well known grass aloe is commonly found along rocky ridges and rocky slopes on the Witwatersrand and Magaliesberg as well as in mountainous areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. In years gone by it was even more prolific, but numbers have been greatly reduced due to development on the ridges and from harvesting by succulent collectors. A number of different forms are found throughout its distribution range.

The leaves are only slightly succulent, giving the plant a grass-like appearance when not in flower. The leaves are yellowish-green in colour, have numerous white dots on both surfaces, and small teeth along the leaf margins. The inflorescence is an un-branched raceme bearing large (40 mm long), pendulous flowers. The flowers are pinkish-orange in colour with green tips. Numerous brown, papery bracts are visible along the length of the scape.

The plants form dense clumps up to about 30cm high. The narrow fleshy leaves usually form a fan-shape and are borne on very short stems which branch at ground level. The leaves may occasionally form a rosette in older specimens. They are dull green or bluish-green with the upper surface distinctly channelled and the lower surface bearing numerous tuberculate white spots towards the base. The margins of the leaves are armed with soft white teeth.

Aloe verecunda is deciduous and loses all its leaves in winter which only reappear after the first rains in Spring. The plant has thick fleshy roots in which it stores water during the dry winter months.

Attractive dense heads of up to 20 peach-red to scarlet flowers are tubular and up to 30mm in length, becoming pendulous when open. The flowers produce nectar which attracts nectar-feeding Sun birds which in turn act as pollinators for the plant. A greenish-yellow form is also occasionally found

The name Aloe is derived from Alloeh, the Arabic name for this genus and verecunda means modest/chaste (Latin).

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