Category: Plant Information
January 12, 2012
Amateur Botanist Confuses Most Amateurs
The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden’s collection of 106 different Aloe taxa represents over ¼ of the world’s 365 species, and almost ½ of the 125 aloe species endemic to the region with the most Aloe species of any region in the world, South Africa. Up until 1950, no comprehensive work on South African aloes had been published. It was then that Gilbert Westacott Reynolds published The Aloes of South Africa. In this rather comprehensive guide, Reynolds did a thorough job of describing the South African Aloe species and documenting some of their ethnobotanical uses. Unfortunately his key, the part of his book that is supposed to help you identify the different types of aloes, is esoteric and somewhat confusing. Most amateur botanists would have a tough time following it; ironic considering Reynolds himself was an amateur botanist.
Wyk & Smith Clean Up the Confusion
Fortunately for the legions of plant fanciers that collect, breed, and field identify South African Aloes, the Guide to the Aloes of South Africa by Ben-Erik van Wyk & Gideon Smith is comprehensive and highly usable. Wyk & Smith abandoned Reynolds clumsy key for a simplified one that groups Aloes into ten easily understood types. This simple key coupled with excellent photographic illustrations of the 125 South African species makes Guide to the Aloes of South Africa, a very easy to use plant manuel.
You Can Distinguish the 10 Aloe Types Yourself at the Aboretum
The best way to see the different types of aloes as described by Wyke & Smith is to travel the Aloe Walk here at the Arboretum and view examples of the ten different classifications as described by them. Below is a map with "pins" showing the locations of examples of Wyk & Smith’s types. The image of Google map shows the location of aloes available at the Arboretum that exemplify the Wyk & Smith classification.
Map to Different Aloe Species
The Aloe Walk is located catty-corner from the Peacock Cafe.
Imagery courtesy of Google Earth.
Key to Map List
A. Single stemmed aloe type (A. marlothii)
B. Spotted aloe type (A. fosteri)
C. Spotted aloe type (A. verdoorniae)
E. Spotted aloe type (A. transvalensis)
F. Speckled aloe type (A. gariepensis)
G. Tree aloe type (A. bainesii)
H. Grass aloe type (A. thomposoniae)
J. Rambling aloe type (A. ciliaris)
K. Creeping aloe type (A. distans)
L. M. Dwarf aloe type (A. brevifolia)
M. Single stemmed aloe type (Aloe speciosa)
N. Single stemmed aloe type (A. ferox & A. marlothii)
Not pictured on map; creeping aloe type (A. distans)
Aloe brevifolia just north of Bauer Lawn.
The following describes and lists the 10 different types based on Wyk & Smith classification system, and lists aloe species available at the Arboretum that exemplify each type.
Small aloes that do not have grass-like leaves They are usually found in clusters with more than one stem.
Aloe brevifolia 'Variegata'
Grass aloe type, Aloe thompsoniae
These aloes have grassy, only slightly succulent leaves and are stemless; the flowers are always single stemmed.
Aloe arborescens, a multi-stemmed aloe type at sunset.
These are shrubby aloes that have multiple stems close to the ground.
Aloe ciliaris, a rambling aloe type
These aloes can be quite bushy and can climb on rocks, trees, and shrubs.
Single-stemmed aloes: A. ferox(left), A. speciosa(middle), and A. marlothii(right)
These aloes have one main stem, some growing as tall as 27 feet (Aloe rupestris)
Aloe marlothii var. marlothii
Aloe transvalensis, a spotted aloe type. Notice the elongated spots on the leaves.
Spotted aloes differ from speckled aloes in that their spots are always oblong and their flower tubes are inflated near their base. They are also mostly stemless or have very short stems.
Aloe affinis hybrid
Aloe gariepensis, a speckled aloe type.
These are aloes with noticeable markings that do not fit into the category of ‘spotted’ aloes. They usually have a small stem, and the markings can be small, distinctly round spots or sometimes streaks. The flowers of speckled aloes are not inflated at the base as are the spotted aloes.
Aloe cryptopoda, a stemless aloe type.
These aloes form rosettes and have no stems. They are mostly single rosettes but some species can form clusters.
Aloe bainesii, a tree aloe type (right) and Aloe ferox, a single-stemmed aloe type (left). Notice A. bainesii does not have a skirt of dead leaves like A. ferox.
The big difference between these and large single stemmed aloes is the branching structure of the main stem and the lack of dead leaves. Tree aloes usually shed their dead leaves.
Aloe distans a creeping aloe; this one hasn't fallen over yet.
These aloes grow to a foot or two in heigth and then topple to the ground where they continue growing; thus appearing to 'creep' along the ground.
Aloe distans. A specimen can be found just north of the A. ciliaris pictured on the map.
To delve into the fascinating world of aloes, please visit the Arboretum's library and check out the following publications:
1. Aloe Publisher: [Pretoria] : South African Aloe and Succulent Society
Call Number: Periodical
2. Aloe juddii, a new species from the Western Cape, and a A. gracilis var. decumbens raised to species level / Ernst J. van Jaarsveld.
Author: van Jaarsveld, Ernst J.
Aloe, v. 45, no. 1 (2008), p. 4-10.
3. Aloe vera / Carol Miller Kent Publisher: Arlington, Va. : Kent, c1979.
Author: Kent, Carol Miller.
Call Number: RS165 .A48 K37a
4. Les Aloes de Madagascar : revision / G.W. Reynolds.
Publisher: Tananarive : Institut de Recherche scientifique de Madagascar, 1958.
Call Number: QK495 .L72 R49 1958
5. The Aloes of South Africa.
Author: Reynolds, Gilbert Westacott.
Publisher: Cape Town, Balkema (A.A.), 1969.
Call Number: QK495 .L72 R462as 1969
6. The Aloes of South Africa / by Gilbert Westacott Reynolds.
Publisher: Rotterdam : A.A. Balkema, 1982.
Call Number: QK495 .L72 R462as 1982
7. The Aloes of tropical Africa and Madagascar / by Gilbert Westacott Reynolds.
Publisher: Mbabane, Swaziland : The Trustees, The Aloes Book Fund, 1966.
Call Number: QK495 .L72 R462At 1966
8. Documented utility and biocultural value of Aloe L. (Asphodelaceae) : a review / Olwen M. Grace, [et al].
Author: Grace, Olwen M.
Economic botany, v. 63, no. 2 (June 2009), p. 167-178.
9. Flora of southern Africa : which deals with the territories of the Republic of South Africa, Basutoland, Swaziland and South West Africa.
Publisher: [Pretoria, Republic of South Africa, Dept. of Agricultural Technical Services] 1963-<2005 >
Call Number: QK394 .F632f
10. Grass aloes in the South African veld / Charles Craib ; paintings by Gillian Condy ; drawings by Murray Ralfe.
Publisher: Hatfield, South Africa : Umdaus Press, 2005.
Call Number: QK495 .A835 C73 2005
11. Guide to the aloes of South Africa / Ben-Erik Van Wyk, Gideon Smith.
Publisher: Pretoria, South Africa : Briza Publications, 1996.
Call Number: QK495 .L72 V35 1996
12. Guide to the aloes of South Africa / Ben-Erik Van Wyk, Gideon Smith.
Publisher: Pretoria, South Africa : Briza Publications, 2003.
Call Number: QK495 .L72 V35 2003
March 26, 2010
(This is the first of several installments describing the "Around the World in 127 Acres" tour series given by Arboretum Botanical Information Consultant Frank McDonough. Please check back as we will publish more tours in this series on the Arboretum's web site.)
Our relationship with plants may be the most involved and complex among all the animals on earth. We cultivate, breed and select them for reasons as mundane as food to as exciting as curing cancer. Probably no aspect of that relationship is as mysterious or controversial as man's use of plants for religious and spiritual purposes. We have used plants to represent myth, to aid in rituals and as psychic gateways to the spiritual realm. The Arboretum's collection, which is roughly organized in sections corresponding to geographic regions around the world, contains hundreds of plants that have some sort of mythic, religious or spiritual significance.
The serpent trail in the Australian section of the L.A. County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
Australian aborigines have extensive knowledge of native plants for food, medicinal and survival purposes. They would use plants like the Brachychiton spp. as an emergency water supply, burn Eucalyptus spp. leaves to relieve headaches and gather the hard seeds of wattles (Acacia spp.) to grind into flour. Although myths vary from tribe to tribe, many did believe that animals, people and plants existed before creation during a period called "Dreamtime." The Arboretum's "Serpent Walk" reflects a mythological creature known as the "Rainbow Serpent," a protector of people and a punisher of those who would break the laws meant to protect the relationship between humans and the fragile Australian environment.
Adansonia grandidieri (image: ino paap)
Some 4,300 miles away from Australia, the island of Madagascar is home to a type of tree that appears even more interesting than the religious beliefs associated with it. The baobab trees of Madagascar are comprised of 6 species that can be found only on the island. They have massive trunk-like structures that store water and nutrients in order for them to survive the not-too-uncommon droughts that visit the island. One of the species, Adansonia grandidieri, can reach over 50 feet in the air. The native Malagasy consider these trees to be the daytime domicile of spirits active during the night and will place offerings of grass at the base of the trees for them. This belief probably serves as a form of protection for the trees from over use as they are an invaluable source of food, fiber and medicine for the Malagasy.
Echinocactus grusonii growing in the Arboretum's cactus and succulent garden; although a member of the same family as Peyote (Lophohora williemsii) it is not known to be hallucinogenic.
The cactus family, unique to the New World, has many species that contain nitrogen containing compounds known as alkaloids. Some of these bitter tasting compounds can affect the chemistry of the brain; because of this, several of them are considered sacred plants by various peoples in the New World. Most of these sacred cacti contain mescaline, a "psychotomimetic" that, like the more notorious compound lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mimics the psychotic state experienced by people suffering from schizophrenia. Research on the effectiveness of using these compounds as treatment for mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and depression to name a few is controversial and inconclusive. In the right settings, hallucinogens like mescaline can produce profound spiritual experiences in individuals. Such experiences are termed "entheogenic" and the compounds that produce them "entheogens." The Native American Church, a religious organization comprised mostly of native Americans, employs peyote as an entheogen in their ceremonies. Interstingly, peyote was not traditionally used by most tribes in North America before its introduction in the late 19th century, however tobacco (Nicotiana sp.) has a long history of spiritual and medicinal use among native North Americans. The use of peyote (Lophophora williamsii) as an entheogen was introduced to native North Americans by tribes in Northern Mexico and Southern Texas where its use dates back over 3,000 years. Another mescaline containing cactus in the genus Trichocereus is used by shamans in Peru to divine illnesses.
Vitex agnes-castus; 'Monk's Pepper'
While the native Americans were using peyote to communicate with the divine, some Europeans were using a plant to help remove certain "distractions" to spiritual enlightenment. Vitex agnus-castus has an interesting common name in Europe, "monk's pepper." Why? Reportedly, monks used the shrub's berries as a food additive to help them maintaining their vows of chastity. It turns out that the plant contains compounds similar to progesterone, a human sex hormone that helps to regulate the levels of other sex hormones in the body. Thus, any sex hormone whose levels are in excess (say in a monk's case, testosterone) would see their levels lowered and leveled out, but not completely eliminated. Why would a monk want to lower testosterone levels? Since testosterone is responsible for the male (and female) sex drive, lowering the testosterone level can lower the sex drive. Consequently, you have happy monks, because it becomes much easier to control, um, the urges. It was also used by ancient Greek women to maintain the period of chastity that was required just before the Thesmophory, a festival in honor of the goddess Demeter. Today, extracts from Vitex are used as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome and other hormonally linked conditions.
Next in part II...A tree with a temple at its base turns out to be a living fossil...a beautiful but dangerous flower used by shamans in Peru...and a seed used by newlyweds in Europe to ensure fertility.
To learn more about the interesting facts regarding plant, animal/human and environment interactions among more than 18,000 acessioned plants in the Aboretum's extensive collections, be sure to sign up for the "Around the World in 127 Acres" tours led by the Aboretum's Botanical Information Consultant, Frank Mcdonough.
To be continued.....
Refrences, including call numbers from the Arboretum Library.
A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, (1926) "The Rainbow-Serpent Myth of Australia," The Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 56,, pp. 19-25
Sandy Toussaint ; Patrick Sullivan ;Sarah Yu (2005) "Water Ways in Aboriginal Australia: An
Interconnected Analysis," Anthropological Forum, Volume 15, Issue 1 pages 61 - 74
Everett, T. H. (1968). Living trees of the world. New York: Doubleday, pp 237-238. QK475 .E94 1968
Pakenham, T. (2004). The Remarkable Baobab. New York; London: W.W. Norton.
Wickens, G.E. & Lowe, P. (2008). The baobabs: pachycauls of Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Springer Science + Business Media, BV. pp. 54-61, 63, 139.
Rätsch, C. (2005). The encyclopedia of psychoactive plants : ethnopharmacology and its applications. (J.R. Baker, Trans.). Rochester,VT: Park Street Press. QK99 .A1 R38 2005 Ref.
Aghajanian, G.K. & G.J. Marek, G.J. (1999). "Serotonin and Hallucinogens," Neuropsychopharmacology, 21(2S), 16-23.
González-Maeso, J., Ang, R.L., Yuen, T., Chan, P., Weisstaub, N.V., López-Giménez, J.F., Sealfon, S.C. (2008). "Identification of a serotonin/glutamate receptor complex implicated in psychosis," Nature, 452, 93-97.
Anderson, E.F. (1980). Peyote, the divine cactus. Tucson : University of Arizona Press E98 .R3 A52p
B. Meier, C. Allemann & M.H. Kreuter. "Vitex agnus-castus and the way of the drug to the clinical approved herbal medicinal product."
Baumann, H. (1993) The Greek plant world in myth, art and literature(W. T. Stearn & E. R. Stearn, Trans). Porland, Oregon: Timber Press. . p.50 BL715 .B347g
- Member Profiles
- What's Blooming
- Historic Collections
- Press Releases
- News Items
- Events & Classes
- Plant Information
- News from the Library
- All Items
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
LA Arboretum Web Communities
- American Institute of Architects
- American Society of Landscape Architects
- Association of Professional Landscape Designers
- Audubon California
- Big Orange Landmarks
- Curbed LA
- Descanso Gardens
- Fullerton Arboretum
- Los Angeles Agriculture
- Los Angeles Heritage Alliance
- National Trust Historic Sites Blog
- Natural History Museum
- Norton Simon
- Pacific Rose Society
- Pasadena Museum of History
- Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
- South Coast Botanic Garden
- Southern California Horticultural Society
- The Getty
- The Huntington Library
- Theodore Payne Foundation