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. This family of plant are flowering succulent. They are perfectly designed to live in dry regions like some areas of the Eastern Cape. The aloe stores water in its leaves and so can withstand drought and survive in these 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 many different types of Aloes on display. They are popular with birds that are adapted to life in these rather dry parts of South Africa. Often they grow in profusion next to the road and if you stop for a while you should see a sunbird or two feeding on the nectar that the flowers of these hardy plants produce. The flowers provide important nectar also for bees that produce honey. Because they flower in the winter that is important for all year around production.