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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Snake Aloe (Aloe broomii)

Family Asphodelaceae
Aloe broomii has a unique feature that no other aloe has - the flowers and buds cannot be seen when the flower is fully open because they are completely hidden by longer bracts. All that we can see of the flowers are the stamens and stigmas sticking out beyond the bracts.


Description

Aloe broomii is a short-stemmed, robust aloe reaching a height of 1.5 m, including the inflorescence. It is usually solitary, but occasionally the heads divide to form groups of up to 3 rosettes. The leaves are green, with reddish brown teeth along the margins, and are arranged in a dense rosette.

The inflorescence is a densely flowered, un-branched (simple) raceme 1.0 - 1.5 m long. The flowers are pale greenish yellow and 20 - 25 mm long. The buds are completely hidden behind large bracts that are densely arranged like tiles on a roof. The flowers open in an approx. 100 mm wide band from the bottom of the inflorescence upwards, but all that can be seen of them are the stamens and stigmas that stick out beyond the bracts. It flowers during spring, and the seed ripens during summer.

There are two varieties of Aloe broomii var. broomii and var. tarkaensis. They are distinguished by the size of their floral bracts: var. tarkaensis has shorter bracts so that more of the flowers and buds are exposed; it also has broader leaves, and flowers in late summer.

 Conservation status

Aloe broomii is not a threatened species, it is still common throughout its distribution range.

Distribution and habitat

This species has a wide distribution. It is found on rocky slopes in hilly parts of the central interior of southern Africa at altitudes of 1 000-2 000 m, from the top of the southern escarpment near Beaufort West in the Northern Cape, to near Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape to the Free State in the north, and in Lesotho. Rainfall in this region is mainly during summer, ranging from 300 to 500 mm per annum.
 Derivation of name and historical aspects

Aloe broomii was collected by Dr R. Broom in 1905 at Pampoenpoort, which is between Carnarvon and Victoria West, so this wonderful species was named after the man who was the first to collect it. It earned the common name snake aloe because of its long, slender, snake-like inflorescence.

Ecology

Aloes produce a lot of nectar that attracts bees, sunbirds and ants. Their light, winged seeds are dispersed by the wind. The seeds are often parasitized by very small maize and rice weevils ( Sitophilus spp.) that leave small round holes in the seeds.

Use and cultural aspects

In the Steynburg District farmers use the brownish fluid that comes from the boiled leaves of Aloe broomii to kill ticks, and as a disinfectant, an ear remedy for sheep, and a dip for cattle. A dessertspoonful of juice from the boiled leaves given to a horse makes the blood temporarily so bitter that any ticks on the animal fall off.