Aloe africana Mill.
African Aloe, Spiny Aloe, Uitenhage Aloe
Aloe angustifolia, Aloe bolusii, Aloe perfoliata var. africana, Aloe pseudoafricana, Pachidendron africanum, Pachidendron angustifolium
Aloe africana is a succulent plant with an erect stem and fleshy, lance-shaped leaves densely crowded in an apical rosette. It usually grows up to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, with older leaves skirting the trunk. Leaves are up to 2 feet (60 cm) long, grayish-blue-green with prominent red, sharp teeth along the margins and in a row running along the middle of the lower surface. Flowering can happen at other times but most often in mid-winter to early spring, with an unbranched to few-branched, up to 3 feet (90 cm) tall inflorescence of erect, long-tapering, terminal spikes of flowers. The flowers are orange in the bud and turn yellow just before opening from the bottom of the spike upwards. They are held in a downward inclination but uniquely turn upwards towards the tips, making identifying this species quite easy.
USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11b: from 25 °F (−3.9 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).
How to Grow and Care
Aloe is a very forgiving plant, and a well-grown plant can be quite beautiful. As with all succulents, Aloe must never be allowed to sit in stagnant water, and the plant should be carefully monitored to watch for signs of overwatering.
These succulents are not particularly fast-growing and will only rarely need repotting. In the spring, repot Aloes that are tipping over their pots or have ceased growing. Use a fast-draining potting mix with one-third sand or pebbles. During the repotting of a larger plant, it is possible to divide the root ball carefully. Some varieties of Aloe will send off offsets that can be potted independently.
Aloe plants need strong, bright light. They can withstand full summer sun, once acclimated. In the winter, provide bright light. It prefers warmer temperatures of 70 to 80 °F (21 to 27 °C) but will survive down to 40 °F (4.5 °C). Feed with a succulent fertilizer in the summer only. Suspend feeding in the winter as the plant goes dormant.
Learn more at How to Grow and Care for Aloe.
Aloe africana is native to South Africa (Eastern Cape).
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South Africa has quite a few single-headed species of Aloe which develop a trunk and make dramatic focal points in the garden. One of these is Aloe africana, native to the Eastern Cape Province in the area around Port Elizabeth.
Although branching specimens are not unheard-of, Aloe africana is normally a single-stemmed plant, reaching a height of up to 13 ft. (4 m). The grayish-green leaves are 2 feet or so in length (up to 65 cm), spreading outward and then curving downward toward the tapered tips. In shady positions the leaves are greener, and under dry conditions they can take on a purplish or pinkish tinge. Below the rosette of leaves, the trunk is covered by the dried older leaves.
Winter is the peak blooming time for A. africana, but its flowering is not as predictable as other trunk-forming aloes, so that an occasional flower stalk may emerge at almost any time of year. Young plants have flower stalks without branches, but older plants typically have one or more side branches, with exceptional plants having as many as four. Like the central stalk, each side branch is topped by a steeple-like spire of closely-packed tubular flowers, red-orange at the bud stage, and lightening to yellow or yellow-orange when they open.
Compared to other aloe flowers, these are quite long, often over 2 inches (50 mm). The flowers are angled downward for most of their length, but then turn outward at the mouth, giving them a unique “ski-jump” profile.
Aloe africana very rarely experiences below-freezing temperatures in its habitat, but in cultivation it can withstand cold spells down to the mid-twenties F (-4° C) as long as this is not sustained. It does very well in milder coastal climate zones, but should be protected from cold snaps in inland locations where the winter lows are more pronounced.
Aloe africana (African Aloe) - garden
Sunset 12 and 13 with protection, 16-24
USDA 9 (with some protection)-11
Landscape Use: African aloe is a great accent plant for oasis transitions gardens, container plant.
Form & Character: Succulent, upright, stiff, striking.
Growth Habit: Evergreen, herbaceous perennial, slow to moderate to 6 feet in height (lessor height in Phoenix), arborescent, rarely branched with leaf forming a dense apical rosette.
Foliage/texture: Glaucous-green succulent leaves, spreading to somewhat recurved, linear-lanceolate, leaf margins and lower side are armed with lines of small, short, but STOUT , reddish serrations (teeth) that can rip and tear stuff coarse texture.
Flowers & fruits: The inflorescence is a candelabra of tubular orange (immature) to yellow (mature) flowers on stalks standing 2 to 3 feet above the leaves. Individual flowers are about 1 inch long, and are densely packed in thick brushlike clusters on the stalks, flowers reflex upwards in sun, but tend to hang down in the shade, attract hummingbirds. Fruits are a multiocarpulate capsule, generally unattractive.
Seasonal color: Brilliantly colored winter flowers.
Temperature: African aloe is intolerant of freezing temperatures below 30 o F, and will develop a chilling injury response (reddened foliage) to temperatures less than 40 o F.
Light: More than other Aloe species grown in central Arizona desert landscapes, African aloe needs protection from summer afternoon sun.
Watering: Infrequent irrigations especially during summer.
Pruning: Removal of dead flower stalks and dead foliage on vegetative stalks.
Propagation: Seed and stem cuttings
Additional comments: African aloe is not commonly found in Phoenix landscapes and is not as environmentally tolerant as A. vera of Phoenix climate. Like other Aloe species, the African aloe attracts hummingbirds when in bloom. The common name, Uitenhage Aloe, describes the South African Uitenhage District where this plant is often seen.
Common names: Uitenhage Aloe, African Aloe (Eng.), Uitenhaagsaalwyn (Afr.), Ikhala (Xhosa)
Aloe africana is a very attractive aloe which adapts to a wide range of conditions. Aloes are characteristic of the African continent where most species occur, but are also found on islands close to Africa such as Madagascar and other adjacent regions such as the Arabian Peninsula. Due to their strong architectural features, beautiful flowers and ease of growth, they are popular all over the world, but mainly grown in subtropical and warm temperate regions. In colder climates plants are grown as house plants or in conservatories.
Aloe africana is a solitary plant, bearing an erect stem up to 2 m high (exceptionally up to 4 m), with a skirt of dry leaves. Its leaves, crowded in a dense, apical rosette, are gracefully spreading to recurved, firm linear-lanceolate, up to 0.65 m long, with a grey-green surface, and its margins armed with small, reddish teeth. Flowers are borne on an erect, unbranched to branched raceme. Its beautiful tubular flowers are up to 55 mm long and curved, the latter feature distinguishing it immediately from close relatives. Its winged seeds are formed in dehiscing capsules and dispersed by wind. Flowering time is from winter to early spring (July to September in South Africa).
Distribution and habitat
Aloe africana is restricted to the southeastern and southwestern part of South Africa, in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, and is particularly common near Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and the lower Gamtoos River. It is mainly confined to hills and flats, growing in thicket and renosterveld vegetation. It often grows in association with Aloe ferox, A. pluridens and A. speciosa, and hybrids are not uncommon. Soil is sandy and well drained. The climate is moderate, without frost, and hot and humid during summers. Rainfall occurs throughout the year, from 600 to 700 mm per annum.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Aloe africana was grown in Europe from the early part of the eighteenth century, prior to Linnaeus establishing his binominal classification system in 1753. It was named by Miller in 1786. The specific epithet africana pertains to its African origin.
Aloe africana, like most other aloes has tubular flowers rich in nectar and pollinated by sunbirds.
Growing Aloe africana
Aloe africana is easily propagated from seed sown in spring or summer. The plants grow slowly and reach the flowering stage in 4 to 5 years. Sow in a sandy, well-drained potting soil in a warm, shady position in standard seed trays. Germination takes about three weeks. Cover with a thin layer of sand (1 to 2 mm), keep moist and the seedlings can be planted out in individual bags or containers as soon as they are large enough to handle.
Aloe africana thrives in coastal gardens but also as a pot or container plant. The plants prefer full sun and windy conditions. They are tolerant towards other plant species and often share their habitat with smaller succulent plants. Plants will benefit from compost or any organic feeding. The plants are not frost tolerant but can survive light frost. It thrives in a wide range of soil and even grows well in the winter rainfall Western Cape gardens where it should preferably be moistened during the dry summer months. The plants are fairly pest free, but may occasionally be attacked by the aloe snout weevil. Over-watering will also lead to fungal infections and rot.
- Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds) 2006. A Checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 41. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Reynolds, G.W. 1974. The aloes of South Africa. Balkema, Cape Town, Rotterdam.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Smith, G.F. 1994. Aloes of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria. Ernst van Jaarsveld Kirstenbosch NBG September 2004
Ernst van Jaarsveld
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Western Cape