Aloe polyphylla: The Gem of the Drakensberg

pu aloe gardenThis beautiful and rare species evolved in the high elevations of the Drakensberg mountains of southern Africa. The unique spiral arrangement of its leaves make Aloe polyphylla very special. Many succulent plants have basal rosette morphology but none have achieved such a striking spiral of leaves. A mature plant will have five rows of leaves either clockwise or counterclockwise. I discovered this rare species during the three years I taught in Lesotho and collected seeds from the few plants that flowered. For fifteen years I cultivated plants grown from these seeds and waited for flowers. The species is not floriferous; rarely will any flower, and various efforts to induce floral buds have been unsuccessful. I have learned enough about seed germination and growth to offer Aloe polyphylla for sale. The plants tolerate snow and temperatures between 10 and 90 degrees F. Those shipped are two years old, 7" in diam. with 45 leaves, full sun acclimated, and ready to be potted or placed in the ground.

I have been growing Aloe polyphylla now for 25 years and since 1992 have offered this wonderful species to the public. My knowledge of the culture of A.p. surpasses any of the other websites of nurseries which also offer A.p. for sale. Recently micro-propagation of A.p. has been developed, because commercial demand is high and propagation by seed is always been chancy and never assured because parent plants may not repeat flower the next year. A.p. is a self incompatible species; pollen from a flower transferred to a stigma on the same plant will not germinate and grow a pollen tube to fertilize the embryo below. A.p. is an obligate out-crosser species. If hybridization does not occur you don't get viable seed. A.p. is also dichogamous; the dehiscence of anthers to release pollen and the appearance of receptive stigma are asynchronous on the same flower. Hand pollination is necessary to produce viable seed.

pu aloe plantCross pollination produces seed which are heterozygous and variable in performance. Hybrid vigor of the F1 generation is very important to the continuance of the population of A.p. plants in their natural habitat and to assure the survival of the gene pool of plants cultivated in botanic gardens worldwide. The production of tissue clones will not produce the hybrids necessary for continuation of this species. I am pessimistic that the plant will continue in its natural habitat because the cross pollinator Malachite Sunbird was also rare back in 1977 when I surveyed the populations of A.p. Cloned plants are exact genetic copies and are all susceptible to the same set of cultural maladies which plague horticulturists worldwide; pests and pathogens that can kill your prized plant overnight. I suspect tissue cloned plants have slower growth and development in their early stages compared to hybrids.

When hybrid seed is germinated a variable population of new plants offers the opportunity to select the best and forget the rest. This is what I do in my nursery. The lowest performing quartile will not be suitable for sale. I sell hybrid plants grown only from seedlings selected for vigorous performance, and cull the rest of the group. I have refined my shipping technique also. I ship only the 30-40 leaf plants because larger plants are very difficult to protect from damage to leaf tips. Larger plants are very heavy and shipping costs are a great concern. Every customer receives a copy of the Care & Cultivation guide and I am available for consultation to answer other questions. Several people have sent me photos of their plants, concerned about some symptom, and received an answer.