Flowers of the Eastern Cape: no 2 - Aloes
When winter comes the Aloes flower.
The family Aloe contains about 500 species and is native to Africa. Several species are commonly found in the Eastern Cape including the African Aloe and the Cape Aloe. It is a flowering succulent that stores water in its leaves and so can withstand drought and survive in arid areas.
The Aloe produces flowers in the late winter and can provide a beautiful display of red against the rather bleak background of a winter landscape. It is a popular plant in gardens in this area and a rocky feature with a variety of aloes makes an interesting display. If a water feature is included it provides an attractive area for several bird species. Farmers use Aloes as a wind breaks and in urban parks they provide a hardy but attractive addition to the gardens.
Traditionally the Aloe has been used as a medicine. Its sap has been used to heal sunburn and as a laxative. One of the early governors of the Cape, Simon van der Stel is reputed to have used it as a purge. Today several products including soaps, gells and creams are marketed as Aloe products.
While they are found in a wide range of conditions they seem to flourish in mountainous regions. A visit to this part of the world in late winter is certain to provide one with Aloes on display. If you stop a while you should see a sunbird or two feeding on the nectar that the flowers of these hardy plants produce.