Aloe arborescens Mill.

Common names:
Krantz Aloe; Krantzaalwyn (Afrikaans),umlhabana (Zulu)

Family: Aloaceae or Asphodelaceae

The word aloe in Greek refers to the dried juice from the leaves of these plants. The Latin word arborescens means (= tree-forming), although it was originally applied to this species in reference to the stem-forming habit.

This species is distributed mainly over the eastern summer rainfall areas of the country but does extend down into the Cape mountains and further north into Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Although it is in fact a large much branched shrub it has been allocated a national tree number. The krantz aloe is usually found in mountainous areas where it favours the rocky outcrops.

The leaves of this species have purgative properties and the leaf pulp has been tested for use in x-ray burns. Local tribal uses include being planted around kraals* as a living fence/hedge. In some parts of South Africa the position of old kraals can still be seen many years after they have been abandoned as the living fences of this aloe still persist.

The Zulu people use the leaves of this plant, dried and pounded into a powder, as a protection against storms. Decoctions of the leaves are also used in childbirth and in treating sick calves. It is also used for stomach ache and to prevent illness in chickens in the Transkei.
Aloe arborescens is one of approximately 119 Aloe species native to South Africa. It is also possibly the most widely cultivated aloe in the world and can be seen grown in gardens in many cities around the world.

The krantz aloe is a valuable garden plant as it develops into a multiheaded shrub of up to 2 -3m high with striking grey green leaves arranged in attractive rosettes. The large colourful flower spikes are borne in profusion during the cold winter months and make this plant a valuable garden asset. With deep orange being the most common colour it is also available in pure yellow and in an unusual bi-coloured form of deep orange (almost red) and yellow. As with all the aloes, the flowers produce nectar and are attractive to many kinds of birds, in particular the small and colourful sunbirds, which flit from flower to flower in search of nectar.

Growing Aloe arborescens

The krantz aloe is easily cultivated and can be grown from a branch broken off and planted in the ground or equally easily from seed. It enjoys full sun, well-drained soil and can tolerate moderate frost but is sensitive to severe frost.

The species formerly known as Aloe mutabilis is now regarded as a synonym of Aloe arborescens. It is a cliff dwelling form with smaller, less branched rosettes and red & yellow bi-coloured flower spikes and is more evident on the high inland plateau of the Northern provinces of South Africa. This cliff dwelling form of Aloe arborescens can be seen hanging from the cliffs alongside the waterfall at the Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden.

*(kraal) is a local name for domestic stock enclosures.

Andrew Hankey
Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden

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