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
Saudi Arabia 22
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.