We planted a small patch of aloes in the garden a few years ago. We have enjoyed watching them grow and go on to flower and provide nectar for insects and birds. We have encouraged wild grasses and allowed other self-seeded plants to grow up around them.

There are a few other succulents in the patch and a small group of snake lilies that flower in the springtime. The first aloe to flower in the summer is Aloe cooperi, one of the grass aloes. This aloe occurs naturally in moist grasslands as well as in dry rocky areas, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, the north-eastern regions of South Africa and in Swaziland.

Emerging bud of Aloe cooperi

In our aloe patch the bud of the first flower of the Aloe cooperi emerged in December. The flowers and young shoots are cooked as a vegetable in traditional Zulu culture and the plant has been used medicinally to ease childbirth. In rural areas leaves were burnt near cattle kraals as it was thought the smoke would protect cattle from the effects of eating unsuitable food

Flower of Aloe cooperi

  Like most aloes, the flowers of the Aloe cooperi start opening from the bottom

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 A close-up of the Aloe cooperi in flower

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 Aloe cooperi flower head next to an older inflorescence that is going to seed

Growing grassland in the Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal, and Aloe Cooperi in flower

 An Aloe cooperi growing wild in grassland in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

There are over 500 species of aloe in the genus, with most occurring in Africa, many others in Madagascar, some in the Arabian peninsula and a few species are endemic to islands in the Indian Ocean. In southern Africa about 155 species of aloe occur and different species are found across most habitats.

Being succulents aloes are well adapted to arid conditions, making them a good choice for water-wise gardening. Many species of aloe flower in the winter months when they are an important source of foods for insects, birds and some mammals.

Newly planted aloe garden, KwaZulu-Natal

Our aloe patch in September 2017 photographed soon after we had planted the aloes. The largest plant at the back of the patch is a well-established Gasteria

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The aloe patch two months later in summer, overlooked by our dog Amy

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 The aloe patch just over two years later in late summer when the flowers of the Aloe cooperi are starting to fade and go to seed

We do have other aloe plants elsewhere in the garden, see for example my post southern-solstice-celebrating-with-aloes. And for a post on aloes in our region growing wild see here: aloe-from-the-other-side

Vervet monkey eating seeds of Crocosmia aurea

A Vervet monkey in the aloe patch eating crocosmia seeds – photographed while I was peeping through a closed window, hence the blur

Inflorescence in bud of Aloe vanbalenii, South Africa

A single inflorescence of a winter flowering Aloe vanbalenii is emerging from the centre of its rosette of leaves to reach an ultimate height of about 1 metre. The leaves can be used to make snuff

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The tubular flowers starting to open on the single inflorescence

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As in all aloes, the mature flowers of the Aloe vanbalenii are rich in nectar and pollen

Flowers and seeds of Aloe vanbalenii

The lower flowers have faded and are starting to go to seed. A bee visits one of the open flowers

Foam grasshopper (locust) on the leaves of a creeping aloe (Aloe distans)

A foam grasshopper settled in a corner of the aloe patch on a small creeping aloe, which is yet to produce any flowers. We bought this tiny Cape species of aloe at a nursery that labelled it Aloe distans. Creeping aloes can be very variable depending on environmental circumstances, and different forms were previously thought to be different species. However, some of these species of creeping aloes, including Aloe distans, are now reclassified as one species: Aloe perfoliata

Inflorescence in bud of Aloe chabaudii

Aloe chabaudii also flowers in winter. In this photograph the inflorescence is still tightly bunched. It takes several weeks for it to reach its full height when the flowers start to open

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The tall inflorescences are multi-branched. The winter-flowering Aloe chabaudii occurs naturally in north-eastern regions in South Africa and northwards to Tanzania. Parts of the plant are used to make snuff and medicinally for toothache and it is thought to have antimicrobial properties

Flowers of the Aloe chabaudii

The flowers are starting to open and show their colours

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Aloe chabaudii in full flower 

Mkondeni aloe in bud in a garden in KwaZulu-Natal

We were pleased to find our local indigenous plant nursery offering a locally endemic aloe for sale. It is the Aloe pruinosa, also known as the Mkondeni aloe

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This plant flowers in March each year. It is fascinating to track the slow development of the flowers as the stem slowly extends to a height of about a metre in length

Flowers of the Mkondeni alo (Aloe pruinosa)

The flowers grow on a tall multi-branched stem. The status of Aloe pruinosa is “vulnerable” as a result of threats that include habitat loss and degradation, displacement by invasive alien species, all specifically as a result of expanding urbanization in its region, and the harvesting of wild plants especially for the medicine trade. Parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes

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The flowers of Aloe pruinosa are an understated pink with a greyish bloom

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Mature flowers decorated with raindrops from the last of the summer rain in March this year

Aloes in a garden in KwaZulu-Natal showing the sculptural form of the leaves

It is now early spring, and tonight as I write this the frogs are serenading in celebration of a soft sprinkle of light rain that we hope is a sign of more to come. The winter flowering aloes are now going to seed and it is a few months before the summer-flowering aloes bloom. In the meantime the sculptural leaves provide striking interest in the aloe patch


Klopper, Ronell, R & Smith, Gideon F. 2010. Aloe genus. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). http://pza.sanbi.org/aloe-genus; Nocwanya, Anelisiwe. 2017. Aloe vanbalenii. PlantZAfrica. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). http://pza.sanbi.org/aloe-vanbalenii; Mutshinyalo, Thompson T. 2001. Aloe cooperi. PlantZAfrica. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). http://pza.sanbi.org/aloe-cooperi; Pooley, Elsa. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust; Victor, J.E. & Dold, A.P. 2009. Aloe perfoliata L. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. http://redlist.sanbi.org/species.php?species=2206-200; Victor, J.E. & Scott-Shaw, C.R. 2005. Aloe pruinosa Reynolds. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. http://redlist.sanbi.org/species.php?species=2206-215; von Staden, L. 2008. Aloe chabaudii Schönland var. chabaudii. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. http://redlist.sanbi.org/species.php?species=2206-45

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