A time for aloes Posted By Doug Morton on Saturday, 24 June 2017

Aloe Time
Nola and I have spent some time in the past years photographing aloes in the places we’ve visited in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands.   Aloes occur from the beaches of the eastern seaboard through the well watered areas into the inhospitable arid places in the Karroo, Botswana and Namaqualand.   A good number of species are closely bound to climatic regions and are found just in small localities, while others are quite widespread and common, but always beautiful.
Some are real trees and compete for height with their companions in their regions, while others are tiny and inconspicuous to the point of being invisible to all by the trained eye.   All species flower annually, most of them dramatic and even spectacular as they flaunt their brilliant colours in the dun veld of mid-winter, others competing for notice in the summer months when many other plants are in flower.   Aloe shapes and structures are greatly diverse, some having no stem at all, their leaves clinging to the cold ground, others behaving like unruly children running in all directions at the same time.   Yet others have several stems that branch and spread to bear their lovely inflorescences in huge balls of splendour, and others are satisfied with sturdy single stems that are coated with the dead leaves of previous seasons, crowned by the current year’s flourish of colour.
A search on Google revealed surprising statistics regarding the distribution of aloes and the numbers of species to be found in the countries of Africa, Arabia, and Madagascar.
Country                                Number of aloe species
South Africa                                       119
Madagascar                                        77
Kenya                                                   55
Tanzania                                              40
Ethiopia                                               34
Somalia                                                33
Zimbabwe                                            27
Namibia                                               26
Yemen                                                 26
Mozambique                                       25
Angola                                                 24
Saudi Arabia                                       22
Zambia                                               19
Swaziland                                           18
Malawi                                               17
Uganda                                               16
DRC                                                     13
Sudan                                                  12
Botswana, Eritrea, Lesotho                  8 species each
(Credit to Ivan Latti, Operation Wildflower)
From this we see that our own back yard is heavily favoured with aloe species, while many that occur elsewhere are not to be found in South Africa.
A severe complication in the identification of aloes is the fact that these plants have the ability to hybridise in the wild.   This leads to a number of confusing variations in some species where the flower colours and even the plant structures cannot be found in the standard field guides.   Many are the time we’ve found an aloe in the veld and said “that’ll be easy in the book,” only to find nothing even resembling what we saw.   Speaking to an expert is an exercise in magic as the components of the photographed plant or proffered sample are analysed and identified.   It’s a wonderful field.
The best display of flowering aloes, by a long way for us, has been the breathtaking collection of a large variety of flowering plants in the depth of the Gwahumbe Valley, courtesy of maestro Keith (Chubby) Bales who decided some years ago to “branch” out into the challenging world on aloes at his Gwahumbe indigenous nursery near Mid-Illove in KZN.  June and July each year bear testimony to his success, with acres of blooming plants of a great many species putting on their best show as if shouting to prospective buyers “Take me, take me!!”   A few hours spent in the valley leaves the visitor almost blinded, reeling at the power of the colours.




We’ve collected a large number of images of aloes, photographed in some of our favourite localities like Creighton, Middelrus, Ladysmith, Spioenkop, Cumberland, Tala and others, and have been indulging in some artistic renditions of some of them, trying to convey the whole plant and also the habitat.   It’s not easy, but it’s fun.   We like the results.   We’ll keep adding to the album, so keep watching the Gallery in our website, Photo Finesse Africa.



All the images (and many others) are available for sale as rolled canvas prints.
Doug and Nola.


Lovely images and love to read all about what you are up to. Thanks.

By Karon Mccann on June 25, 2017

Thanks for sharing this info Doug. Whilst I have always loved this time of year for the abundance of aloes, I admit I don't know that much about them other than they are beautiful, and the odd species name. I didn't for instance know there are 119 species here in SA - wow. Yesterday (25/6) we took my Mom for a drive up to Piggly Wiggly near Howick, and we were gob smacked at the aloes that were in full bloom next the normally boring and treacherous freeway between Durban and Pmb. They were stunning. Looking at your beautiful images of the nursery at Mid Illovo, I regret not taking a drive up that way instead of the commercialized Piggly Wiggly. We will just have to make a plan and try get there during the week. Thanks again, and we love your work Doug.

By Allan Bower on June 26, 2017