|An Aloe plicatilis in flower.|
Aloe plicatilis, the fan aloe, is a species of aloe endemic to a few mountains in the Fynbos ecoregion, of the Western Cape in South Africa. The plant has an unusual and striking fan-like arrangement of its leaves. It may grow as a large multistemmed shrub or, unusually for Aloe species, as a small tree. It is one of five species of tree-aloe indigenous to South Africa, and it is the only tree-aloe native to Fynbos habitats.
Name and taxonomy
Aloe plicatilis derives its common name fan aloe, from the unusual distichous arrangement of its linear leaves. Its scientific name plicatilis also means "folded" or "pleated", or possibly "foldable"; it is in any case a misnomer because the leaves are nothing like plicate and do not fold. In the local Afrikaans language, Aloe plicatilis is commonly known as the Waaier Aalwyn (= 'fan aloe'). It also is called the Kaapse Kokerboom (= 'Cape Quivertree') because of its resemblance to Aloe dichotoma. The resemblance lies mainly in its dichotomous branching habit, as it usually grows stems too short to be of much use for making quivers.
Aloe plicatilis presents an unusual combination of features among Aloes (arborescent, with trunk branched dichotomously at short intervals, distichous leaves in the mature plant, straight perianth with the inner segments free) so taxonomists have in the past assign it to its own separate sub-genus Kumara within the genus Aloe.
Aloe plicatilis can grow to a height of 3–5 metres (9.8–16.4 ft) tall. The trunk has corky, fire-resistant bark and the branches fork into pairs without a central leader, a pattern known as "dichotomous" branching. The branches bear masses of succulent, oblong, tongue-shaped leaves arranged in 2 opposite rows in the shape of a fan. To the imaginative, the leaf-heads look a bit like a mass of grey hands, raised in the air.
The leaves are grey-green in colour, about 300 mm long and 40 mm wide, and have tiny teeth along the margins that are noticeable only on close inspection. Aloe plicatilis is one of only four species of aloe in the world which display this unusual distichous arrangement of its leaves. Two of these species occur only in Madagascar, while the Fan Aloe and its tiny stemless sister-species Aloe haemanthifolia occupy the same small mountainous corner of the Western Cape in South Africa.
At the end of winter (August to October) the plants appear to burst into flames as they suddenly produce masses of bright pink fowers.
In the wild, Aloe plicatilis is confined to a tiny area in the Western Cape, between the town of Franschhoek and Elandskloof. Here it grows in well-drained, sandy, slightly acidic soil on steep, rocky, south-facing slopes. It also seems to have a very clumped distribution pattern, with seventeen different populations that are often separated from each other by over 10 kilometres (6.2 mi).
Its entire habitat lies within the fynbos biome, where it is the only tree aloe. The fynbos biome consists of dense Mediterranean-type vegetation and a climate of dry hot summers and cold wet winters. Few other aloes naturally occur in this corner of South Africa, the exceptions being the Fynbos Aloe, Table Mountain's Aloe commixta, and the Fan Aloe's rare sister species Aloe haemanthifolia.
Protected areas in which it occurs include the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, Limietberg Nature Reserve and Paardenberg Nature Reserve.
The Fan Aloe is threatened by a growing international horticulture trade, in which wild specimens are illegally collected and exported. It is not an endangered species, but is on the IUCN Red List and the National Red List of South African Plants as a Least concern species, until its population status is assessed for its risk of extinction based on its distribution and/or population status.
Aloe plicatilis is an attractive and interesting accent plant to have in a sunny garden. As such it is increasingly used as an ornamental plant for drought tolerant landscaping and rockeries. However it grows very slowly and consequently, outside of its natural habitat, it is often in danger of being overgrown, smothered and killed by faster growing plants in its vicinity.
Fan Aloes are best propagated from cuttings (truncheons). These should be stems or branches, cut cleanly from the parent plant. After allowing the cutting to dry out (not in direct sunlight) for a week or two, plant it in well-drained soil in a reasonably sunny position - out of reach of competition from faster growing plants. In cultivation it should be grown in a soil medium with a pH of 5.5-6.5.
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Small potted specimen as an ornamental plant.
- Plantzafrica.com: Aloe plicatilis(Fan Aloe)
- Jackson, Benjamin, Daydon; A Glossary of Botanic Terms with their Derivation and Accent; Published by Gerald Duckworth & Co. London, 4th ed 1928
- Reynolds, G.W. 1950. The Aloes of Southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town. Pg 502-505.
- Baker, J. G. Flora Capensis, page 253 (1897)
- "Aloe plicatilis (L.) Mill".