Aloe verecunda Pole-Evans
Common names: rand grass aloe, witwatersrand grass aloe (Eng.); randgrasaalwyn (Afr.)
Aloe verecunda, with its striking orange-red flowers and grasslike leaves, is an attractive deciduous grassland aloe.
Aloe verecunda plants form dense clumps up to about 30 cm high. The narrow fleshy leaves usually form a fan-shape and are borne on very short stems which branch at ground level. The leaves may occasionally form a rosette in older specimens. They are dull green or bluish-green with the upper surface distinctly channelled and the lower surface bearing numerous tuberculate white spots towards the base. The margins of the leaves are armed with soft white teeth.
Aloe verecunda is deciduous and loses all its leaves in winter. New leaves appear only after the first spring rains. The plant has thick fleshy roots in which it stores water during the dry winter months.
Attractive, dense heads of up to 20 peach-red to scarlet flowers are borne in summer (November to February). A greenish-yellow form is also occasionally found. The individual flowers are tubular and up to 30mm in length, becoming pendulous when open.
Distribution and habitat
This well-known grass aloe is commonly found along rocky ridges and rocky slopes on the Witwatersrand and Magaliesberg as well as in mountainous areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. In years gone by it was even more prolific, but numbers have been greatly reduced due to development on the ridges and from harvesting by succulent collectors. A number of different forms are found throughout its distribution range.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Aloe is derived from Alloeh, the Arabic name for this genus; verecunda means modest/chaste (Latin).
This interesting aloe belongs to a group of deciduous aloes known as grass aloes which are adapted to grassland habitat and are able to survive both fire and frost during the cold dry months. They are often burned during winter and then resprout with the onset of spring.
The flowers produce nectar which attracts nectar-feeding sunbirds which in turn act as pollinators for the plant.
Growing Aloe verecunda
These plants grow well in cultivation if grown in conditions similar to their natural habitat. Ideally plant them in full sun, in well-drained soil between rocks. They can withstand fairly severe frost in winter when they are dormant. They will tolerate a fair amount of water during summer, but be sure not to give them too much water during the winter months. Aloe verecunda can be cultivated as a container plant provided it is given adequate drainage. Once established in the garden, these plants should not be transplanted unnecessarily as this causes damage to the fleshy root system which takes a long time to re-establish once injured.
This grass aloe can be relatively easily propagated from seed which should be sown in spring in a well-drained seedling medium. Water well until the seedlings are established.
- Bornman, H. & Hardy, D. 1971. Aloes of the South African Veld. Voortrekkerpers : Johannesburg.
- Fabian, A. & Germizhuizen, G. 1997. Wild Flowers of Northern South Africa. Fernwood Press : Cape Town
- Jeppe, B. 1969. South African Aloes. Purnell : Cape Town
- Lucas, A. & Pike, B. 1971. Wild Flowers of the Witwatersrand. Purnell : Cape Town
- Reynolds, G.W. 1982. (4th edition). The Aloes of South Africa. A.A.Balkema : Cape Town.
- Van Wyk, B. & Smith, G. 1996. Guide to the Aloes of South Africa. Briza Publications : Pretoria
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Succulent
SA Distribution: Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer
Flower colour: Red, Yellow, Orange
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average