Aloe polyphylla, commonly know as Spiral Aloe, is a rare, stemless Aloe, noted for its stunning spiral shape. It is native to the Lesotho mountain peaks, near South Africa, where it is now a protected species. It clings to rocky crevices where it grows in the high grassy, mountainous slopes. The plants are sometimes under snow in winter.
The sharp-edged thick leaves form a spiral, clockwise or anti-clockwise. They do not begin to spiral until they are between 8 and 12 inches (20 and 30 cm) in diameter. The Basotho people believe the direction of the spiral indicates the sex of the plant but in fact the flowers are actually bisexual. Plants have approximately 150 leaves each, which explains the name “polyphylla”, “poly” means “many” and “phylla” is Greek for “leaves”.
It can take a few years to reach maturity but is a fascinating Aloe at all stages of its growth cycle. After a few years, spikes of beautiful pink or red flowers may emerge, which when pollinated will produce hundreds of seeds. Plants usually flowers in spring and early summer.
Aloe polyphylla is the National flower of Lesotho.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Spiral Aloe is one of the most ornamental Aloes but extremely difficult to grow in cultivation. Plants which have been removed from their habitat usually do not survive for more than a few years. It is a criminal offence to remove plants or seed of Spiral Aloe from the natural habitat or to buy plants from roadside vendors.
With a proper care, Spiral Aloe can be cultivated successfully outside of its native habitat. It is a fast-growing plant that can reach full size in 5 or 6 years. If plants don’t receive proper growing conditions will die despite all efforts.
It needs well drained soil, and grows best on a steep slope. It prefers light shade and does not like really high temperatures. Plants need to be protected from hot temperatures and do most growing in spring and autumn. It might not thrive in consistently hot areas, especially if nights are also warm. Mature plants are said to handle 10°F (-12°C) as well as snow, although younger plants should be protected from hard freezes. Water moderately when in growth from spring to early autumn and very sparingly when dormant. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer 2 or 3 times in the growing season.
Spiral Aloe is great for beds and borders, rock gardens, slopes, succulent gardens or Mediterranean gardens. It is great in decorative containers too.
If you are in a warm climate, you can grow the seeds outdoors. The rest of us will need to start them indoors with the addition of bottom heat of some kind. Keep the medium moderately moist either way in bright light and where temperatures are ideally 75°F (23°C).
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