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Aloes of Namibia


Included in the flora and fauna rich diversity and excellence of Namibia, is a specific genus of succulents that holds a special interest to residents and visitors alike, aloes. A succulent is a plant with the ability to store large quantities of water which in turn protects them against potential drought. A succulent stores water in either their roots, leaves or swollen stems, or a combination of all three. Rapid root growth in times of abundant soil moisture is another important factor. Aloes store their moisture in the form of a thick juice, which is heat and drought resistant. Colours vary from species to species and the bitter taste is unpalatable.

Aloes are a group of plants belonging to the Ashodelaceae family. They are closely related to lilies and other similar genera that all have tubular flowers, succulent leaves and racemes. Common terminology includes perianth (floral envelope), raceme (a cluster of flowers along the stem), penducle (branch), inflorescence (the flower arrangement on a stem) and rosette (the leaf arrangement around the stem). A thick, waxy layer covers the leaves, which lowers the water loss on hot days and in the drier months. A characteristic of the leaves of aloes is that their leaves are arranged to either funnel rain water or condensed dew towards the roots or to deflect the water away from the base of the plant. Most species, except the smaller ones, are protected by thorns on the sides of the leaves.

Other features of aloes include sunken leaf pores, shallow fibrous root systems, brilliant flowers, seeds perfect for wind disposal and roots wedged between or under rocks. The latter allows for aloes to benefit from damper soils which accounts for them growing on koppies, rocky hillsides or stony ground.

Namibia hosts 27 species of aloe in a variety of geographical systems. Sandy plains, open grassland, thornveld, clay soil and rocky koppies are all suitable for this genus. Amazingly four species only grow on vertical cliff faces along the Kunene and Orange Rivers. A full range of climates are also tested from the dry through to arid, extreme heat and the freezing cold of Aus, near the Namib Desert. The sub-tropical region of the east Caprivi is also suitable for the growing of aloes, the watery temperate zones there emphasize the climatic variations aloes thrive in.

Regions with difficult access such as mountain areas, harbour large populations of succulents. The Huns and nearby mountains are of extreme conservation importance to the Aloe pillansii. In the Naukluft Mountains there are a number of species of plants with a limited distribution range. One such plant is the Aloe sladiana. The Namib-Naukluft Park contributes to their survival, an extremely important conservation matter. The world's smallest species A. sladeniana grow in the Khomas Hochland Mountains. A. dichotoma is better known as the quiver tree. More information on this species can be found in the plant section. A. pillansii also grows in Namibia's southern and western regions. Baboons and kudu feed on the younger inner leaves of some species as do goats and sheep, although never more than a couple of bites before the unpleasant taste sets their taste buds alight.

Succulents should be treated with due care and respect and are an important addition to the Namibian wildlife community. They do not grow when flattened, run over by a rented 4x4, or eaten. In Namibia all succulents are protected plants and may not be removed or transported without permission or the relevant documents. Certain nurseries are permitted to sell them if they are registered. The nursery receipt serves as a legal permit. There are 27 main colonies of aloe found in Namibia. They are:

Namibian Plants

Accommodation in Namibia