Perhaps you’ve experienced the soothing properties of Aloe vera after spending too much time in the sun. Aloe vera, sometimes known by its synonym Aloe barbadensis, is a familiar medicinal plant for many. Its healing qualities come from a compound in the leaf known as aloin, a natural anti-inflammatory. Yet, Aloe vera is just one of over 600 plants in the genus Aloe, all of which are succulents. A very diverse group of plants whose native range stretches from South Africa and Madagascar to the Arabian Peninsula, aloes range in size from the diminutive Aloe descoingsii from Madagascar, with its tiny, two inch rosettes, to the massive tree-like Aloe barberae from southern Africa. More than 160 species are in our Aloe Garden. Take a look around. Can you start to notice the shared qualities of aloe, their rosettes of fleshy leaves, spiny or smooth, attached most often without a stem? You may begin to see these plants in your own neighborhood!
Sunbirds and Hummingbirds:
Perhaps you have seen the helicopter flight of hummingbirds in the winter as they flit from one aloe flower to the next. Their long bill seems to be a perfect fit for the plant’s slender, tubular flowers. Yet, it is merely a happy accident that aloe flowers and hummingbirds are so well suited for one another, since they did not evolve together! Hummingbirds live only in the Americas, while aloes are generally from Africa. In their native African ecosystems, aloe flowers are pollinated by a kind of bird known as a sunbird, who has a similarly long, slender bill. As humans travel around the world, introducing new species, we are also creating new ecosystem interactions.
January through March finds Lotusland’s Aloe Garden filled with spectacular red, yellow or orange flowers, accompanied by the metallic song of hummingbirds. This Aloe ferox is native to South Africa. Most plant’s flowering is triggered by day length and season. The majority of aloes, especially from southern Africa, flower during their winter/early spring (May-September) which corresponds to the cooler dry season. It is the shorter days of winter that typically cause the plants to flower, in the northern and southern hemisphere. Located near the aviary there is an unusual white flowered form of A. ferox.
This shallow kidney-shaped pool, dates from when Erastus and Marie Gavit owned the property (1915 – 1939), and is one of Lotusland’s most recognizable features. Madame Walska converted it into a white-bottomed “abalone shell pond” with two large cascading fountains of giant clam shells. As you walk the aloe garden, look for surprises of coral embedded among the lava rocks, and enjoy the wonderful iridescence of the abalone shells.
The largest of all the aloes, Aloe barberae is truly treelike in proportion. Not only does it branch repeatedly to form a rounded crown to 45 feet in height, its large trunk eventually forms a massive, bulging base that can be many feet in diameter just above the soil surface,
Notable species: Aloe barberae, A. dichotoma, A. plicatilis, and A. ramosissima. Large specimens of the gru-gru palm (Acrocomia aculeata) and a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea stricta).