The beautiful reds, yellows, oranges and golds of autumn are found, not in falling leaves on Simbithi, but in our beautiful flowering autumn and winter flowers.
Aloe pluridens – The French Aloe
This is a showy, beautiful aloe that makes a stunning garden plant and will flower in sun or shade. It occurs naturally in thicket-vegetation at low altitudes in a costal band that that stretches from Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape to the Dolphin Coast. Pluridens refers to the many small teeth on the margin of the bright green leaves but nobody knows where the common name of ‘French Aloe’ originated. It is a slender, usually single stemmed aloe that will grow in just about any soil. An advantage is that it is not prone to infestations by the aloe snout beetle, unlike most of our aloes. Although this aloe can be grown from seed I have several specimens in my garden that have produced multiple plantlets around the stem so I have used these plants as an easy way to propagate this aloe species. Alternatively, cuttings or truncheons of the main stem can be used in summer to produce more plants. Arguably one of the most beautiful aloes on Simbithi it is surprising that it is not more common on our estate. This is one aloe that does very well in a pot.
Aloe arborescens – Krantz Aloe
This aloe always has many large flowers and is great for adding colour to autumn and winter gardens. A multi-headed plant this aloe, with its grey-green rosettes of leaves can form large spreads of between 2 to 3 meters high with a similar width. Each rosette of leaves produces two or more flower spikes, each with a large cone shaped flower head. Deep orange is the most common colour but bright reds, pinks, yellow and even a two-colour form of deep orange and yellow can be found. It has been cultivated around the world but occurs naturally along the coastal belt from the Cape Peninsula, through the Eastern Province and KZN right up to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It occurs from sea level to the tops of mountains and prefers full sun. This aloe was often planted around cattle kraals as a living fence and is used medicinally for a range of conditions, including the use of the sap as first aid for burns. One of the fastest growing aloes, it is easily propagated by removing stems with the rosette of leaves and simply planting this in the position you want it to grow. If preferred it can be grown from seed but one must remember that as it hybridises quite readily with other aloes, taking a cutting is the best way to ensure a plant with the same colour flower as the parent. Krantz aloes like well-drained soils to which compost has been added and will also grow happily in a rockery. . Sunbirds and bees love this aloe and I have noticed the village weavers also enjoying the nectar.
Aloe vanbalenii – Van Balen’s Aloe
I love the lime green colour of the long, curved leaves of this almost stemless aloe. Mine are growing in part shade and in a dry, full sun position the leaves turn a coppery red colour. It spreads by means of a thick stem to form a densely crowded aloe groundcover. Each flower stalk usually divides forming two side branches that are shorter than the centre stalk which is usually about a metre tall. The stunning pyramid like flower heads are often red but may vary from yellow and orange to a terra cotta pink. I recently picked some for a vase and was impressed by how long they lasted.
We are within the southern part of the natural distribution of this aloe which extends northwards into Northern KZN, South-eastern Mapumalanga and parts of Swaziland. Like many other aloes, this species is pollinated by nectar feeding sunbirds. Taking cuttings from a parent plant that has had time to spread is the easiest form of propagation. Give the cuttings a few days to heal before planting where you want your new aloe to grow. They are also easily propagated from seed that is sown in summer. The seeds take about three weeks to germinate and care needs to be taken to provide adequate water and ventilation so that the tiny plants doe not succumb to fungus. Once the seedlings are 50mm in height they can be transferred into bags under 20% shadecloth.
Aloe ferox Bitter aloe
This is the classic tall, large single stemmed aloe with tall, red flowers arranged as a candelabra. Many older South Africans have a love hate relationship with this aloe – they love the beautiful sculptural plant with its fiery-red, showy flowers, the mere sight of which warms one in winter, but hate the bitter taste of “Cape Aloes” a vile, resinous medicinal product that has survived for over two centuries and is used to treat a plethora of conditions, but primarily is used as a purgative. Nowadays a gel from the inside of the leaves is used to treat wounds and radiation burns in patients with cancer but at least they do not have to taste it!
The large leaves arranged in a rosette have impressive thorns and these aloes can reach a majestic 3 meters in height. Dried leaves should not be removed but left on the stem to provide a welcome safe home of lizards and the like. Flower heads often have seven or more branches and the flowers are full of nectar. Lots of birds visit these bright red or orange flowers with the inner sides of the petals attractively tipped in white; including sunbirds, weavers, mouse birds and starlings. I have even had monkeys breaking the flowers to get at the sweet nectar. A spectacular garden plant but remember not to plant it close to paths – ‘ferox’ is Latin for ferocious and the thorns are the reason for its name.
Aloe chabaudii – Chabaud’s aloe/ Grey aloe.
Since coming to Simbithi this aloe has become a favourite of mine. Planted en masse in full sun it forms an effective groundcover that is absolutely stunning when it flowers. This is primarily because the flower stalks (inflorescences) have masses of branches each `topped with a cone shaped cluster of red flowers. The leaves are grey-green and arranged in an upward rosette. This aloe is stemless but produces short suckers with a baby aloe forming at the end of each sucker. The easiest way to propagate this aloe is by removing these young aloes and planting them straight into the ground or into potting bags containing a mix of compost and sand. Aloe Chabaudii with yellow and orange flowers have been found in Zimbabwe.
Aloe thraskii or Dune Aloe
Like Aloe ferox, Aloe thraskii is a tall, robust, single stemmed aloe. This is the aloe that grows within the salt spray dune region and there are many specimens along Ballito’s boardwalk. The olive-green rosette of leaves arches downward and the thorns have red margins. The remains of old leaves cloak the trunk. Although specimens can reportedly reach 4 metres most of the mature plants on the Dolphin coast are approximately 2 metres in height. Once mature, each plant produce 3 or 4 branched flower stems with 15 to 25 erect cylindrical flower heads, usually golden yellow in colour. The protruding parts of the stamens are bright orange adding to the attractiveness of the flowers.
Aloe thraskii is classed as Near Threatened in its natural habitat due to habitat loss from urban and coastal development and illegal collecting. In addition, is has proved particularly susceptible to a fatal aloe disease that causes circles of raised spots on the leaves and for which there appears to be no known cure. Luckily the plants within the salt spray zone do not seem to show evidence of this disease which is most likely fungal in nature.
Aloe marlothii Flat-flowered aloe
Possibly the most majestic of our single stemmed aloes. Usually growing to about 4 meters in height, the occasional plant reaches over 6metres in height. The large leaves are covered in thorns but it is the flowers that never fail to amaze. There may be as many as 30 branches to an individual candelabra and each branch is virtually horizontal. The most common colour of the flowers is a flaming orange tinged with yellow, but they do vary from bright red to pure yellow. It is a long-lived aloe with some large specimens estimated to be over 110 years old. The thorns, as with all aloes, are there as a defence against browsing but the flowers are rich in nectar and visited by several species of birds. This aloe loves to be in full sun and is perfectly happy in a rockery but remember to give it enough space to grow. They are easily propagated from seed sown in spring. Put stones in the bottom of a container that has holes for draining. Cover the base of the container with stones and gravel. Then add a thin layer of compost before covering this with river sand. Sow the seeds on top of the river sand and cover with a thin layer of sand. Water daily but sparingly. When over 25mm in height prick out the baby aloes and pot up in a well-drained medium in individual pots or bags. Keep in the full sun, avoid overwatering and feed with a liquid fertilizer.
Cotyledon orbiculata Pig’s ears
A lovely groundcover for Simbithi gardens, this fairly fast-growing succulent has thick leaves that vary both in shape and from grey to green in colour. The long flower-stalks carry a cluster of hanging bell-shape, orangey-red flowers that attract bees and nectar-feeding birds. This succulent is as happy in semi shade as in full sun and has many medicinal uses, including applying and the sap to remove warts. Propagation is easiest by cuttings and this plant has few pests. They look lovely in pots or within a rockery.
Kniphofias or Pokers
We have several, permissible species of pokers on our Simbithi Plant List including the Red hot poker, (Kniphofia uvaria); the graceful poker (Kniphofia gracilis); the slender poker ( Kniphofia laxiflora); the Clairwood hot poker (K. pauciflora), the Winter poker (K. rooperi) and the Giant poker (K. tysonii).
Many Simbithi gardens are graced with these plants and they are increasingly seen in our grasslands. They are herbaceous meaning that they do not have a woody stem above ground, instead they grow from fleshy underground stems called rhizomes. Some species are deciduous and lose all their leaves whereas others have green straplike leaves all year around. Each flower stalk consists of many stalkless tubular flowers often changing from orange or red as a bud to yellow giving the inflorescence its typical two-colours. All nine provinces of South Africa have pokers but in KZN we have the most species. Like aloes, the flowers are nectar rich and attract both nectar feeding insects and birds.
Cape Honey-suckle or Tecomaria capensis
These plants can flower throughout the year but have been particularly beautiful this autumn. The flowers are tubular and showy and can vary from pure yellow, salmon, orange to red. It is a multi-stemmed shrub and a good garden subject as it can be readily pruned. When fertilised they flower profusely and Cape Honey-suckle is another plant that can be planted in full sun or partial shade. Loved by sunbirds, bees and butterflies for its sweet nectar, it is evergreen in KZN and the leaves are browsed by buck. It is easy to propagate by cuttings or by digging up rooted suckers.
Halleria lucida – Tree fuchsia
I planted three of these trees in my garden in Simbithi as they attract a wide variety of birds. Nectar feeders like the sunbirds, insect eaters as the nectar attracts bees and other insects as well as fruit eaters when the berries ripen. The flowers vary from dark red on some trees to pale orange and yellow on other trees. Usually, multi-stemmed these trees have attractive rough bark and light green leaves. The flowers are very rich in nectar, and although showy, are largely hidden by the leaves as they occur on the branches and trunk and in the axils of leaves. The tubular fuchsia-like flowers are followed by clusters of small spherical green fruit that turn black when ripe. These are sweet and juicy and although edible, they really don’t taste good. Bushbuck enjoy browsing the leaves so young trees need to be protected. Many tree fuchsias on Simbithi are the size of large shrubs but in a damp, protected spot in the forest they can grow as high as 20 metres! They bring such a large variety of birds to the garden that every bird lover in Simbithi should plant one.
Erythrina lysistemon or Coral Tree
This is one of the most loved trees in South Africa, and easily recognised by its brilliant red flowers. Stocky in stature this species often branches low down but a drive through Simbithi illustrates just how varied in shape and size this tree can be. They are briefly deciduous losing all their leaves in winter before the vivid flowers festoon the tree, and usually while still in flower, the lovely new leaves appear in early Spring. The flowers produce copious nectar attracting nectar feeding birds and insects which in turn attract insect eating birds. A slender pod follows the flower which is sharply constricted between each seed. While still attached to the tree the seed pod splits to release the bright red “lucky beans” that we loved to collect as children.
In summer these trees often have wet patches under them as a result of “spitting bugs” but the bugs do no lasting harm to the tree. These trees grow quickly and can be propagated from seed but an entire branch or truncheon can be cut from an existing tree in winter. Leave it on the ground for several days then plant it where you want it to grow or in a well-drained medium such as coarse river sand and compost. Keep damp but not wet and very soon it will spring to life by producing new leaves.
Leonotis leonorus. Wild-dagga or Lion’s ear plant
Both white and orange flowered forms of this plant occur in Simbithi gardens and grasslands. It is fast growing shrub, which grows to 3 meters in height in ideal conditions. The spiky hard calyx rings the upright stems and protects first the buds and later the seeds of the wild dagga plant. The bright orange flowers are nectar rich attracting the sunbirds and other nectar feeders. The narrow lance shaped leaves feel rough on the upper surface but are velvety on the underside and smell strongly of herbs when crushed. The seeds are small and stick shaped. Once dried they are dispersed around the parent plant due to wind action. Each little seed has special oil glands that attract ants which disperse them further afield when they carry the seeds away. Traditional healers have used this plant to treat a variety of ailments and more recently scientific research has identified possible anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic properties from a extract from the leaves of this plant.
Wild dagga is easy to grow and likes to be in full sun for optimal flowering. It should be cut back after flowering and responds well to composting and liquid fertilizer. The easiest way to propagate it is by digging up a clump and dividing it using a spade. However, this is often not necessary as it will re-seed itself around the garden. It can also be propagated by seed.
By Margi Lilienfeld