Scientific name: Aloe polyphylla
Common name: Spiral aloe
Plant type: Evergreen, perennial succulent
Environment: Requires well drained soil and prefers full to filtered sun
Bloom: Red to yellow green tubular flowers on a branching spike
Uses: Interesting addition to a patio garden or container planting
Aloe polyphylla Pillans, or spiral aloe, is a distinct member of the genus Aloe and is endemic to Lesotho. In its native range the plant is rare in the wild, however it is relatively abundant in cultivation.
Aloe polyphylla was first collected by western botanists in 1915 on Phurumela Mountain in Lesotho. The species was not formally described, however, until 1934 in the journal South African Gardening by the South African botanist Neville Pillans. Pillans’ developed a passion for the native flora of southern Africa as a child and proposed the current site of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden near the Table Mountain Nature Reserve when the development of the garden was in its infancy.
As aforementioned, the species is only found in Lesotho. In its native range A. polyphylla grows at elevations up to 2500 m in the Drakensberg Mountains. There it grows in basalt rock crevices, often on steep slopes. While this area receives over 1000 mm of rain per year and is often snow covered, the loose rock that A. polyphylla allows for good drainage for the species.
Due to its unique growth structure, the plant has long been under threat of overharvesting. Today the species is also threatened with habitat loss and fragmentation. Adding to its rarity, A. polyphylla is also difficult to establish in cultivation, particularly attempts to transplant individuals that are removed from the wild. Today, however, the plant has many legal protections aimed at helping rebuild its population and can be found in nurseries around the world.
Aloe polyphylla is a relatively small, evergreen, perennial aloe. The species is prized for the clockwise or counterclockwise spiral arrangement of its leaves. It does best in well drained sandy soil or loam. Although slow to flower once established, the plant will produce red to yellow-green tubular flowers on a branching spike.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and profile by Victoria Stewart. Photos by Joanne Taylor.