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High Mountain Aloe in our Arid Garden

May 17th

Aloe polyphylla is only found at high altitude in the Drakensburg mountains of Lesotho, South Africa.  It is listed as CITES Appendix 1, the highest level of threat.  It has become an endangered species primarily due to excessive collection from unscupulous plant hunters taking plants and seed from the wild.  The plants at Ventnor are from cultivated origin and are used as an example to visitors how some plants are pushed to the edge of extinction.  By collecting and distributing these seed we are hopeful of decreasing this pressure on the wild plants.  We also use this plant to show the modifications that plants have evolved to live in arid conditions, and how these morphologies are shared with entirely different plants from similar ecological niches, often continents apart.

Aloe polyphylla in flower June 2013

Aloe polyphylla grows in a very distinctive spiral shape, which follows the mathematical principal of the Fibonacci Sequence.  In practical terms it ensures that within the highly compressed space of internodes each leaf is offered optimal position for light.

In the wild Aloe polyphylla remains a plant with a single spiral (monocephalic), but, for curious reasons we don’t understand, the plants in cultivation at Ventnor have split into two or even three spirals, often growing back to back so the spiral is in some cases 90° to the horizontal.

Our Aloe polyphylla inflorescences are now starting to open and we have begun hand pollinating in hope of setting seed.