It’s Aloe Season here in Kwa Zulu Natal.
Bitter Aloes or Cape Aloes as they are sometimes called (Aloe Forex), are beautiful plants that vibrantly bloom in Kwa Zulu Natal between May and August.
This popular South African plant occurs in a broad range of habitats. You will find them along our beachfront in Durban (purposely planted of course), along river catchment areas, on rocky hills and in gardens. If you lucky to find an area where hundreds are in flower, you will be treated to a magnificent show of brightly coloured flowers adorning a dull brown winter landscape. Added to that, there is often a hive of activity as nectar-loving creatures visit for their share of sweetness. From bees to sunbirds, weavers, and even monkeys, nature comes to celebrate.
Us humans join in the celebration with two annual festivals.
CREIGHTON ALOE FESTIVAL
For the past nine years, Creighton, a small town in the Midlands has held it’s Aloe and Steam Train Festival.
Visitors catch the Eshayaomay steam train from Creighton. They travel along the Ngwangwe River through a valley hosting thousands of blazing aloes covering it’s rocky outcrops It’s a wonderful experience for families, nature lovers and photographers.
ASHBURTON ALOE FESTIVAL
This festival has been running for six years. Just outside of Pietermaritzburg the Mpushinini Valley Conservancy will be holding its sixth Aloe Festival. This small conservancy is the home to many animals, birds, insects including butterflies and its hillsides are covered with aloes.
This year the festival is being held on 30th June and 1st July. My plan is to go on Saturday, can’t resist a day out in nature and being surrounded by its beauty. Click here for information on this year’s programme.
A little bit about Bitter Aloes (Aloe Ferox)
Remember I’m not a gardener or botanist – this is my observation of these beautiful plants and how I see them. First of all, they are large plants (can grow up to 3m). You can’t help noticing them, especially when in bloom.
Their leaves are thick and fleshy arranged in rosettes around the stem. They have reddish-brown spines, sometimes making the plant look the same. Young plants have far more spines to protect them from grazing animals. Once they are tall enough the spines are only on the edges. While we were in Vernon Crookes a little while ago we watched Zebras nibbling on these plants so guess they do need to protect themselves.
Their flowers are multi-branched and yellowy-orange to bright red in colour. They stand proudly above the leaves, some over one metre.
Aloe flowers are a rich source of food during winter for creatures such as bees and birds, not only sunbirds. I’ve seen a flock of red-winged starlings gorge themselves on aloes at Durban’s beachfront. Sometimes, us birders get confused when a ‘strange’ looking sunbird, only to discover they are covered in pollen.
Like all Aloes, Bitter Aloes are hardy, resistant to severe drought and can withstand fires.
Left: BitterAloes blooming in Hluhluwe Game Reserve, Zululand
Right: Bitter Aloes having survived a controlled fire in Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve
Gardeners love these plants as they ‘r not fussy (like roses?) and offer wonderful colour during the dull winter months.
There are about 600 different species of aloes in the world with about 300 of them found in Africa. South Africa is blessed with a high number of different species of which the Aloe Forex is just one.