One of the best-known Aloes in Gauteng, Aloe marlothii’s beautiful shape, and stunning flowers make it much sought after as a specimen plant in local gardens and elsewhere in southern Africa.

Their bright flowers are nectar-rich and will attract sunbirds and other birds.

Very drought hardy, and a relatively low maintenance plant, it is certainly a good choice for warm, dry gardens.

Family:                   ASPHODELACEAE                          (Aloe Family)

Name Derivation:

  •  Aloe – Uncertain origin may be of Greek, Arabic, Hebrew or Sanskrit origin.
  • marlothii – After Herman Marloth (1855 – 1931), professor of botany at the University of Stellenbosch and a pharmacist.

Common Names:     Mountain aloe, (Eng), bergaalwyn (Afr), sekgopha (Nso), inhlaba (Swa), mhanga (Tso) mokgopha (Tsw), tshikhopha  (Ven), and umhlaba (Zul).

SAF Number:                   29.5

Features of Aloe matlothii

Form:

A tall, single stemmed Aloe with a rosette of fleshy leaves.

Size:           1 – 4 m ( – 6m) by 1.5 – 3 m.

Stem and Bark:

  • Light to dark brown, often blackened by fire in the wild.
  • The bark is often hidden by a ‘skirt’ of the old, dead leaves.

Thorns:              Short spines on the leaves.

An Aloe marlothii in flower in habitat. Note the upright growth.

The leaves have reddish spines along the margin and scattered on the leaf surfaces.

Foliage:

  • Evergreen.
  • Large, gray-green, fleshy leaves (75 – 150 cm) that are curved upwards and spreading.
  • Margins are lined with short, reddish spines.
  • The spines are also scattered on the leaf surfaces, more on the lower than upper surface.
  • The leaves are arranged in a spiral rosette at the end of the stem.
  • The old leaves dry out and droop downwards against the stem and remain on the plant for a long time.

Flowers:

  • A single inflorescence (flower stalk) that branches into many almost horizontal racemes (flower spikes) 30 – 50 cm long.
  • Many bright yellow-orange tubular flowers are borne on the upper surface of the racemes.
  • Old flower inflorescences remain on the plant for up to a year.

Colour:   

  • Bright orange-yellow.
  • Rarer white, yellow, red and bicoloured forms are also found.

Flowering Months:    (Mar) Jun – Aug.

Fragrance:                     Not scented

Fruit:

  • A 2 by 1 cm capsule that has 3 compartments
  • Each compartment contains many slightly winged seeds.
  • Green ripening to light brown.
  • The capsules split open to release the wind dispersed seed when ripe.

A close-up photo of Aloe marlothii flowers.

Some old Aloe marlothii fruits that have split open and dispersed thier seeds.

Aloe marlothii is a good structural feature plant in a garden and spectacular when in flower.

Growing Aloe marlothii

In the Garden:

  • Its strong symmetry and structure make it a good feature plant in landscaping.
  • Plants in flower are stunning and add colour to Highveld gardens when little else is flowering.
  • Because it is drought and quite cold resistant, it is a good choice for gardens on the Highveld.
  • Very good wildlife friendly plants, attracting a variety of animals.
  • We recommend you do not remove the ‘skirt’ of dead leaves as they provide safe homes to many animals
  • Good plants for large containers.

 Soil Needs:

  • Need a well-drained, but fertile soil.

Care:

  • Mostly a low maintenance garden plant.
  • Feed annually by mulching with compost.
  • Prone to attack by white scale (especially if stressed), treat with sunflower oil or Olium.
  • Also prone to attack by Snout beetles, we spray with Pyrol.
  • Large plants do not transplant very well, many die within 2 or 3 years of been moved.

Cold Hardiness:

  • Cold hardy, but the flowers may be burned in a heavy frost.

 

Its strong symmetry and structure make it a good landscaping feature plant.

Aloe marlothi flowering in nature.

An Aloe marlothii flowering in nature

Water Requirements:

  • Very drought hardy, but tolerate regular watering.
  • A Water-wise plant.

Light Requirements:       Full sun.

Space Requirements:      Plant 1 – 2 metres apart.

Roots              The roots are not aggressive.

 

Ecology of Aloe marlothii

 Birds:

  • The flowers and nectar will attract many different bird species, including sunbirds and orioles.
  • Used by insectivorous birds for foraging and gleaning.
  • The spiny leaves, green and dried, provide excellent nesting sites for many birds from doves to sparrows.

Bees:              Aloe flowers are an important nectar source for bees

Butterflies and other insects:        Adult butterflies visit the flowers for nectar

Medicinal:

  • Used to treat stomach ailments, roundworm and horse sickness.

Poisonous:                       Not poisonous. 

Black-headed Orioles are attracted to Aloe marlothii flowers

Black-headed Orioles are attracted to Aloe marlothii flowers in gardens.

Aloe marlothii growing on the slopes of a mountain.

Aloe marlothii growing on the slopes of a mountain in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve.

Notes of interest:

  • The dried leaves that remain on plants provide shelter to insects, lizards and geckoes.
  • The nectar rich flowers attract many insects (especially bees),
  • These Aloes have been planted around kraals to protect stock from predators.
  • Leaves are eaten by large browsers like kudu.
  • Aloe marlothii hybridises readily with other Aloes that flower at the same time as they do.
  • Please do not purchase Aloe plants sold “open root” on the side of the road, these plants have been raped from the veld.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the extreme south eastern Bot, NW, G, M, L, Esw and KZN.
  • Endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands and savanna-bushveld.
  • Found on rocky mountain slopes, in woodlands and grassland.

References:

Boon, Richard  “Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, a Complete Guide”  2nd ed. 2010  Flora & Fauna Publications  Durban.

Emms, Paul,  “Aloe marlothii”  2007  PlantZA     Link: http://pza.sanbi.org/aloe-marlothii

Joffe, Pitta & Oberholzer, Tinus  “Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants, A South African Guide” 2nd ed. 2012  Briza Publications  Pretoria

Coates Palgrave, K C, edited Coates Palgrave, M C  “Trees of Southern Africa”  2002  Struik Publishers  Cape Town

Palmer, E & Pitman, N  “Trees of Southern Africa Volume 3”  1973  A A Balkema  Cape Town

Schmidt, E, Lotter M  Cleland W  “Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park  2002  Jacana  Johannesburg

Van Wyk, A, van den Berg, E, Coates Palgrave, M & Jordaan, M  Dictionary of names for southern African trees”  2011..Briza Publications  Pretoria

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs)  2019 & 2021.