What’s Blooming? South African Aloes

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

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.

Dwarf Aloes
Small aloes that do not have grass-like leaves They are usually found in clusters with more than one stem.
Aloe brevifolia
Aloe humilis
Aloe brevifolia ‘Variegata’

Aloe thompsoniae

Grass aloe type, Aloe thompsoniae

Grass Aloes
These aloes have grassy, only slightly succulent leaves and are stemless; the flowers are always single stemmed.  
Aloe thompsoniae
Aloe ecklonis
Aloe minima

Multi Stemmed Aloe: A. arborescens

Aloe arborescens,  a multi-stemmed aloe type at sunset.

Multi-Stemmed Aloes
These are shrubby aloes that have multiple stems close to the ground.
Aloe castanea
Aloe falcata
Aloe mutabilis
Aloe vanbalenii
Aloe arborescens

Aloe ciliaris -a rambling aloe

Aloe ciliaris,  a rambling aloe type

Rambling Aloes
These aloes can be quite bushy and can climb on rocks, trees, and shrubs.
Aloe tenuior
Aloe ciliaris

Single stemmed aloes: A. ferox(left), A. speciosa(middle), and A. Marlothii(right)

Single-stemmed aloes: A. ferox(left), A. speciosa(middle), and A. marlothii(right)

Single-Stemmed Aloes
These aloes have one main stem, some growing as tall as 27 feet (Aloe rupestris)
Aloe marlothii var. marlothii
Aloe ferox
Aloe vryheidensis
Aloe thraskii
Aloe excelsa
Aloe littoralis
Aloe marlothii
Aloe speciosa
Aloe africana
Aloe alooides
Aloe spectabilis
Aloe pluridens

Aloe transvaalensis

Aloe transvalensis, a spotted aloe type. Notice the elongated spots on the leaves.

Spotted Aloes
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 burgersfortensis
Aloe affinis
Aloe affinis hybrid
Aloe branddraaiensis

Aloe parvibracteata

Aloe vogtsii
Aloe verdoorniae
Aloe immaculata
Aloe transvalensis
Aloe lettyae
Aloe pruinosa
Aloe mutans
Aloe grandidentata

Aloe burgerfortensis

Aloe gariepensis, a speckled aloe type.

Speckled Aloes
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 framesii
Aloe khamiesensis
Aloe pictifolia
Aloe gariepensis
Aloe microstigma

Aloe cryptopoda

Aloe cryptopoda, a stemless aloe type.

Stemless Aloes
These aloes form rosettes and have no stems. They are mostly single rosettes but some species can form clusters.
Aloe striata
Aloe petricola
Aloe krapohliana
Aloe buhrii
Aloe chabaudii
Aloe cryptopoda
Aloe aculeata
Aloe peglerae

Aloe bainesii

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.

Tree Aloes
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 plicatilis
Aloe bainesii
Aloe dichotoma

Aloe distans

Aloe distans a creeping aloe; this one hasn’t fallen over yet.

Creeping Aloes

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


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© 2015 Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens

Phone: 626.821.3222

301 N. Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA, 91007

Site Design by Kirk Projects