Aloe ferox

09 Feb

In the cold Jerusalem winter one can enjoy the glittering inflorescence of the Aloe plants at the Southern African section of the Botanical Gardens. There are several species in our collection which bloom in this season, with warm red-orange-yellow colors. One of the more impressive among them is the Aloe ferox.

Aloe ferox is a woody succulent, having fleshy leaves arranged in rosettes. It grows up on a single non-branched stem, and may grow up to 2-3 m high, while old withered leaves are accumulated on the stem to form a dry skirt. The leaves have spines on their margins and on their surface, and these have granted the plant its deterring name:  ferox (ferocious). Cactus and succulent fans may testify that there are more terrifying spines than these… The blooming stems are multi-branched and bare 5-8 erect inflorescences, which make an impressive chandelier-like form, up to one meter long. The flowers are tubular, red through orange, and contain much nectar. Sunbirds celebrate in circles around the flowers, enjoying the nectar, and by the way pollinate the flowers. In nature, monkeys also drink from the flowers’ sweet nectar.

Photo: Noam Asseo

Aloe ferox is the most widespread Aloe in the world. It grows on rocky slopes and in semi-arid grasslands, sometimes dominating the scenery of Karoo and Fynboss, in the Cape region of South Africa, from sea level up to 1500 m.

Many species of Aloes have medicinal properties. The most known and used for about 2000 years is the Aloe vera, but A. ferox has even more concentrated active medicinal compounds. Grace et al. conducted a research (published in “BMC Evolutionary Biology”, 2015), that investigated the reasons for the A. vera popularity. They found a correlation between the usage of fleshy plants for medical purposes, and their leaves’ thickness. They found also evidence that the origin of the Aloe vera is from the Arabian Peninsula, a fact that was not clear before, because of its early cultivation since olden days. Thus, as a thick leaved plant, which grew near main trade routes in the days of the Roman Empire, the Aloe vera became a much known medicinal plant. Aloe ferox with its woody appearance and limited distribution in South Africa, was less known and was only locally used.

Today, Aloe ferox is used and researched in the medicine and cosmetics industries, in the fields of skin protection, cancer prevention, immune system strengthening, antifungal and antibacterial treatment, and more. The used products of the plant are the yellow bitter leaves’ sap, which in nature protects the plant from being eaten, and the gel found in the interior of the leaves, which is transparent and viscous. The sap is extracted by dripping, and the gel is filletted. The common use of the sap since ancient days is as a concentrated resin, for laxative effect, which is known by the name “Aloe Lump”. The inner gel helps in relieving scalded and itchy skin, and in curing wounds.

Aloe ferox is a big sculptural plant which is suitable for ornamenting a garden as a focal plant, or at the bed’s back. It is a water saving plant, resistant to dryness, high heat, and also to the Jerusalem cold. It will revive the colorless winter garden, and attract sunbirds and other birds. Its slow growth demands patience and will let us enjoy the growing process.

The Aloe ferox plants at the Botanical Gardens are about thirty years old. You are invited to the Southern African section to watch them in their full glory.

Photo: Judith Marcus

by: Shira Carmeli & Ori Fragman-Sapir, Translated by Ron Agmon   February 2017

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