Grewia-licious – the indigenous edible shrubs you should have in your garden:

by Life Green Group and BotSoc

These six Grewia species of South Africa are not only a must have for a bird garden; attracting hordes of fruit-eating birds, the fruits they produce are also edible for humans. In traditional cultures the fruit of certain Grewia species are used to brew alcohol and eaten as a sweet treat.

All of the Grewia species are incredibly resilient and easy-going and a must have for any South African garden.The Grewia species was named after English physician Nehemiah Grew and form part of the Malvaceae family.

Life Landscapes, the landscaping division of Life Green Group uses them as screen plants and they make for attractive shrubbery with their yellow or pink flowers.

Mauve flowering Grewia species

Cross-berry (Grewia occidentalis)

The cross-berry has an incredible wide range across South Africa. The cross-berry is the tallest Grewia reaching six metres and 10 metres in ideal conditions. It does need some shear work to stay neat and tree-like. It is a rewarding shrub that flowers pinky-mauve blossoms all year round.

The fruits are consumed ravenously by bulbuls, barbets, mousebirds and other fruit loving birds. Humans can use the fruit to ferment beer and when dried and added to milk it makes for an excellent milk sweetener. In Zulu culture the wood of the cross-berry is used to make Assegai spears.

Read more about indigenous purple flowering trees by clicking here.

Karoo crossberry (Grewia robusta)
Grewia robusta

Like the cross-berry the karoo crossberry also has wonderful bright pink blossoms that flower from August to December. The Grewia robusta is frost resistance and adaptable to all soil types, it does prefer a desert-like setting. It is best to grow them in moist clay and loamy soils and partially shady areas.

It makes for a good screen plants and a super addition to a bird garden. Its plum-like fruits have an acid tinge to them and are pleasant to eat, both cooked and raw.

Yellow flowering Grewia species

Brandybush (Grewia flava)
Grewia flava ©Bernard Dupont

The brandybush gets its name because its fruit can be distilled into a type of brandy or beer. This is the smallest of the South African Grewia species. It does not have an aggressive root system making it a good garden specimen. In the North West, Northern Cape and Limpopo wild animals rely on it for food. It has grey leaves that contrast its bright yellow flowers and spreads readily.

White raisin (Grewia bicolor)

The white raisin is a frost-hardy shrub that gets to nine metres. It can grow in most soils and is a water-wise choice. Its gets the second part of its Latin name from its bicolour leaves which are lighter on the bottom and darker on the top. The canary yellow flowers of the white raisin are smaller than the rest of the Grewia species and bloom from October to March.

Time to give the more tropical, less frost hardy, Grewias some yellow press:

Sandpaper raisin (Grewia flavescens)

Grewia flavescens

The sandpaper raisin, like the brandybush, also has a sunny disposition with its sweetly perfumed, bumblebee yellow flowers.  It is tough and adaptable relies on wild animals for germination.  It can handle all types of soil and prefers a more temperate environment like the giant raisin. It is multi-stemmed and makes for a wonderful screen plant.

In Namibia the fruit is soaked in water to make a refreshing drink. It is also an essential bird garden plant for attracting frugivorous birds.  For more on how to attract fruit eating birds to the garden click here.

Giant raisin (Grewia hexamita) 

The giant raisin occurs on the Natal coast it has the largest flowers of the South African Grewia family and grows to about five metres high. This shrub is one of the most attractive Grewia species because of its large bright yellow flowers, rounded bushy crown and dark glossy leaves. Like all of the Grewia species the fruits can be fermented into moonshine. Birds and butterflies are attracted to its large scented flowers. It flowers ad-hoc all year round, especially in Summer. The giant raisin grows best and is more suited to a tropical environment with good rainfall like Natal. It is not easy to predict germination of seeds for this particular species, but once the seeds germinate, its growth is about 1 m high and produces fruits about 3 years later.

Go ahead and plant your own Grewia species.

Happy Gardening to all out readers!



Treasure chests & libraries of plants: learn about herbaria

Written by Catherine Clulow and Thaakira Samodien

Herbaria are treasure chests of knowledge and a priceless resource often not (or seldom) acknowledged or understood. Much scientific research ground work relies on herbarium collections. These collections enable and aid plant identifications and are the keys to open doors of understanding of studies of vegetation change and plant diversity, unpacking lineages, ecology, morphologies and so much more. Working in herbaria may not be everyone’s cup of tea but these vaults of specimen and collection gems are so valuable and important. The Botanical Society of SA (BotSoc) wish to highlight this to folk and acknowledge the great value herbaria offer.

What is a herbarium?

Did you know that plants and books have something in common? A Library! A library for plants is called a Herbarium. A herbarium is like a warehouse or library of information about plant biodiversity. Preserved plants are stored, catalogued and systematically arranged by professionals and amateurs from different walks of life. Herbaria are of immense practical use and of fundamental importance to science.

Preserved collections and information about these specimens, including description, where it is found, its uses, when they flower and more, facilitate current and future generations to identify plants and study biodiversity, to support conservation, ecology and sustainable development.

What is in a collection?

A large variety of plant specimens and information about them. For a list of herbaria around the world, with the scope and size of their collections see this link.

What is collected?

A specimen may be a whole plant or parts of a plant. Includes samples of leaves, stem, bark, ideally flowers and/or fruits. Exactly what is collected is dependent on the plant. Specimens may also include photographs and DNA samples. Many specimens are donated. Others exchanged and others targeted collections.

What are herbaria used for?

Common research that may use herbaria collections include:

  • Mapping current and past ecological and geographic distributions of plants to help with landcare and bioprospecting
  • Evolutionary history of plants
  • Existing and changing nature of plant communities and their habitats
  • Invasion biology and weed ecology
  • Molecular phylogenetics
  • Classification and naming of plants

BotSoc’s strategic partner (you can read about this partnership in another of our blogs, here), The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has 3 herbaria (PRE; NBG; NH) staffed by scientists and technicians who continuously maintain and expand the collections, to research on plant groups and provide a number of services to a wide range of national and international clients. These services and products include: plant identifications; specimen exchanges and loans; botanical information; regional floras; plant checklists; taxonomic revisions; E-flora.

A bit about four of South Africa’s herbaria.

1. The National Herbarium:

The Pretoria National Botanical Garden is the home of The National Herbarium (PRE): Founded in 1903 by Joseph Burtt Davy. The current collection stands at approximately 1.2 million specimens, mostly from southern Africa, but extends into the rest of Africa and surrounding islands, and includes small collections from outside of Africa. This is the second largest herbarium in the southern hemisphere. Email

2. The Compton Herbarium:

The Compton Herbarium (NBG) is situated in the Kirstenbosch Research Centre at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town. Founded in 1937 by Prof. RH Compton. The Compton Herbarium is the second largest herbarium in southern Africa, leading the exploration of the diversity of the Greater Cape Floristic Region flora. It houses approximately 750 000 specimens covering mainly the winter rainfall region of southern Africa, as well as many valuable specimens in the South African Museum (SAM) collection. Email

3. The KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium:

The KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium (NH) is located adjacent to the Durban Botanical Gardens, in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Founded in 1882 by John Medley Wood. This herbarium curates the KZN region’s rich plant diversity of over 7000 species. It houses about 140 000 specimens, mainly from KZN and the IUCN-recognised centres of plant diversity- namely the Maputaland, Pondoland and Drakensberg centres of plant diversity. Email

4. The Bolus Herbarium

Another famous herbarium is the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town. Established in 1865, the Bolus herbarium is the oldest functional herbarium in South Africa. With over 350 000 specimens, it’s the 3rd largest herbarium in SA and the 3rd largest university herbarium in the southern hemisphere. As part of an academic institution, its primary function is to aid teaching and research of the diversity of southern African flora, particularly of the Cape Floristic Region. The collection is recognised for its superb representation of Cape Flora and large number of type specimens housed.

The process . . . from the field to the herbarium

Simple steps:

Step 1: Visits to the field to collect specimens

Step 2: Back in the lab/herbarium, pressing and drying the specimens (keeping them in the fridge until ready to mount).

Step 3: Identifying and labelling of specimens

Step 4: Capturing all information into the electronic database

Step 5: Mounting specimens on herbarium sheets

Step 6: Filing specimens into the herbarium

The Compton Herbarium, Kirstenbosch ©T. Samodien

Significance of herbaria in a nutshell

Chatting to some folk who have knowledge on and work in, or with information provided by, herbaria, here are a few reasons they shared as to why herbaria are so important:

  • The Herbarium holds historical records of plants which have been archived for many years
  • Herbaria information allows one to work out distribution and locality of species from past to present which is vital in conservation
  • Herbaria facilitate taxonomic reviews
  • They hold all the records of flora that has been collected in South Africa over the years which is important in assessing how the flora has changed from the past to the present and it also allows taxonomists to identify and name new species
  • A Herbarium also provides a home for many different types of studies (taxonomy, botany etc.)
  • Herbaria allow information to go onto the Red List Database which is accessible for anyone to view and which is highly important when it comes to threatened species
  • The specimen collections provide data about the species’ morphology while the label offers taxonomic and locality data

Herbaria are highly important when it comes to botanical studies and therefore the Botanical Society of South Africa supports the work and research that occurs within South Africa’s Herbaria.

For more information:

  • To read an overview about SANBI’s biosystematics and collections, click here.
  • The Herbarium Catalogue, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet [accessed on 01 December 2016].

Do you realise just how special our backyard really is? Facts about The Cape Floral Kingdom

Written by Catherine Clulow

All too often we take for granted what’s right under our noses and for that very reason today we share some facts to remind, inform and/or highlight just how special our backyard really is. The facts shared in today’s blog are taken from SANBI Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a wonder to visit to enjoy our amazing biodiversity and natural heritage.

So you may ask what’s a floral kingdom? Floral kingdoms are the largest natural units that can be determined for flowering plants. Regions that share the same combination of plant families form part of the same floral kingdom. There are six floral kingdoms of the world (Holarctic; Neotropical; Pelaeotropical; Australian; Cape; and Antarctic).

So what’s so special about the Cape Floral Kingdom? Here are 6 ‘wow factors’ for you:

  • It is the smallest of all the floral kingdoms
  • It is the only floral kingdom to fall completely inside the borders of a single country
  • It occupies about 90 000 square kilometres- that’s only 0.04% of the surface area of the Earth
  • It contains nearly 9000 species of flowering plants- that’s about 3% of Earth’s species
  • Two out of three species in the Cape Floral Kingdom are endemic, meaning they occur nowhere else on Earth. This is the highest level of endemism in the world!
  • The Cape Floral Kingdom is a World Heritage Site

The Cape’s vegetation is termed Fynbos. Yes many of our readers know what this is, but we share a bit more about Fynbos for those who may not, and you may too learn a thing or two you didn’t know or may not remember.

What’s so fine about Fynbos?

  • Fynbos is the vegetation that is found growing naturally on the mountains and coastal plains of the south-western tip of South Africa, unique to the area.
  • The name comes from the Dutch ‘fijn’ and ‘bosch’ meaning fine bush, referring to the very small leaves and flowers of many of the species.
  • Fynbos makes up 80% of the Cape Floristic Region/ Cape Floral Kingdom
  • Fynbos is characterised by the presence of four main plant groups: restios, proteas, heaths and geophytes, as well as seven plant families that only occur in fynbos
  • It’s amazingly diverse, and exceptionally rich in species, and occupies a relatively tiny area of land
  • Over 7000 species occur in 41 000 km2, and 80% of them occur nowhere else on Earth.
  • The Cape Peninsula alone has 2 600 species- that’s more than the total number of species in the British Isles- crammed into an area smaller than London
  • To emphasise the diversity try these comparatives, let’s blow your mind with some numbers: Comparing species diversity with other heathland communities in Australia and California, and with the rest of South Africa:

Cape Floristic Region/Cape Floral Kingdom- 94 species per 100 km2

Australia- 14 species per 100 km2

California- 12 species per 100 km2

The rest of SA- 8 species per 100 km2

Marvel in the Cape Floristic splendour, how can you not? Appreciate and safe guard our amazing biodiversity. We live in a truly special place and need to remember that and remind each other from time to time.

King Protea (Catherine Browne, Botanical Society of SA)
©Catherine Clulow

The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) is an NGO focusing on biodiversity conservation and awareness and environmental education and for over 103 years has been working with passionate partners and persons to conserve the natural heritage and flora of southern Africa. BotSoc’s mission is “ To win the hearts, minds, and material support of individuals and organisations, wherever they may be, for the conservation, cultivation, study and wise use of the indigenous flora and vegetation of southern Africa, for the benefit and sharing by all”. Find out more about BotSoc here and consider joining the BotSoc family.

Go out and learn about, appreciate and enjoy our Floral Kingdom and be proud of it!

Greening the future: notes on a successful partnership between BotSoc & CPUT

Written by Joseph Kioko and Catherine Clulow

The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) signed a memorandum of agreement in 2014. Headed into the third year of this three year contract, the success stories are encouraging and the partnership will be continued for another three year period. The purpose of this partnership was a pilot study for the BotSoc to support a tertiary educational institution and particularly nature conservation students, the ‘greenies’ of the future.

Students taking the National Diploma in Nature Conservation at CPUT undergo highly valuable hands-on training, thanks to funding from BotSoc. The training was facilitated by a highly knowledgeable team led by the City of Cape Town and held at the Zeekoevlei camp of Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET).

The one-week training camp is part of the curriculum of CPUT’s Nature Conservation Diploma, and is designed to integrate what the students have learnt in lectures and practicals with applied skills needed for work. By their nature, these skills can best be taught in situ, in a conservation setting and by professionals working in the conservation sector. Skills taught are many and varied, including: setting up and manning night observation points in a Nature Reserve, using dart guns for baboon management, operation of chain-saws and bush-cutters, the use of Sherman traps for small animal surveys, fixed-point photography for vegetation surveys, the use of field guides for the identification of flora and fauna, park maintenance, park management, alien clearing, GPS mapping, and the use of biodiversity databases, among other technical skills.

Image supplied by CPUT

Students also learnt and practiced ‘soft skills’ such as teamwork, leadership and communication, by taking turns to act as supervisors or team members in specific tasks. This was combined with workshops on time management and reserve management, also given by expert practicing conservationists from the City of Cape Town.

Although this camp has been run by CPUT for a number of years, the camp in 2015 represented a new beginning and was different from all previous camps. For the first time, the students did not have to pay for the camp from their own pockets, the 2015 and 2016 camps were fully funded by BotSoc, including transport, food and training expenses. Therefore for the first time students who did not have the means could fully participate. Previously, those students who could not afford the camp were disadvantaged even further by missing the training. Some students could afford only the transport costs but had no funds for sufficient nourishment and water during the training camp. The feedback from students highlighted that the provision of food saved time that would have been lost when all students had to prepare their own meals, and so there was more time for conservation activities. The provision of meals also provided a good opportunity for students from all backgrounds to socialise, learn from each other, and sow the seeds for fruitful collaboration as professionals. Therefore the full sponsorship of the camp by BotSoc represents a key aspect of enabling the success of students who would otherwise have been marginalised, and is a tangible contribution towards the inclusion of young people from diverse backgrounds into the conservation profession.

Image supplied by CPUT

Students have expressed their extreme appreciation of the training received, they were full of praise for the facilitators, and singled out experts and field rangers from the City of Cape Town as well as the CTEET staff and the quality of nourishment provided.

Image supplied by CPUT

According to Prof. Kioko, the success of the field training camp is the result of a well-functioning collaboration with organisations such as the City of Cape Town, CTEET, and BotSoc, and he is very grateful to those organisations. He added that it is BotSoc that provided the ‘glue’ for the collaboration that delivered the successful 2015 and 2016 camps by providing the funding. The collaboration between BotSoc and CPUT is making a real difference for conservation.

Another activity supported through collaborations is that the first and second year students visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens annually. BotSoc facilitates entry and information guides to assist learning through another great partnership with SANBI. You can read more about the BotSoc- SANBI partnership here. This year, the students attended an outing to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Compton Herbarium, where they were shown and taught about specimen preservation and research with Christopher Cupido at the Compton Herbarium. Following this they enjoyed using the gardens as their outdoor classroom for the day. Welcomed by BotSoc Executive Assistant, Catherine Clulow and told about the BotSoc/ SANBI partnership, students were then led by SANBI’s Julia September on an in depth tour of the gardens to highlight conservation in situ and ex situ. The group were treated to behind the scenes visits to areas of conservation management and research within the gardens and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

CPUT nature conservation students visit Kirstenbosch 2016. © Catherine Clulow

BotSoc provides CPUT with resources used in broadening student’s knowledge and interest in biodiversity, and Veld & Flora magazines are used for discussion topics and passion sharing.

Students return the ‘favour’ so to speak, in promoting the Society during their WIL internships, when they give presentations about BotSoc to their host institutions, thereby spreading the word about the Society.

It is inspiring to see the determination and spirit of the next generation and we wish all who are influenced by this partnership, to be inspired and develop ever- growing passion to remain interested and working in the environmental sector, greening the future.

We thank the BotSoc members who so generously donate funds for this project, as you read, this is money well spent! What a great story to share, please do.

Until next time…


Go Green: make a choice, make a change

Written by Catherine Clulow

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”                 – Robert Swan-

In the ever changing world we live in and with the imminent risks our planet faces in light of climate change, we all need to do what we can to make a difference.

Here the Botanical Society of South Africa shares day to day ideas of what each of us can do to make a difference in going green, making the planet a better place, one day at a time. We don’t propose you must do each and every suggestion but you’ll see that many are easy and with a little reminder and thinking we can all contribute to greening our lifestyles.

32 Tips to get you thinking and being green in and around your home and garden

In the home:

  1. Switch off the water when you’re brushing your teeth
  2. Place a bucket in the sink and shower to collect water for watering your plants
  3. Set your washing machine to 30˚
  4. Drip-dry your clothes
  5. Put a brick in your cistern to save on water and use less water each flush
  6. Leave your geyser alone; concentrate your power savings elsewhere.
  7. Insulate your house properly
  8. Put on an extra layer of clothing before turning up the heat
  9. Shower rather than bath
  10. Clean and defrost your freezer regularly
  11. Use white vinegar, bicarb and water as a general cleaner
  12. Recycle & reuse
  13. Reuse your shopping bags- keep them in the boot of your car or handbag
  14. Go paperless but back up your data
  15. Understand what you’re doing with carbon offsets
  16. Walk more
  17. Carpool
  18. Once in a while have dinner in the dark, an unplugged evening

In the garden:

  1. Ensure you have permeable paving
  2. Start a compost heap and/or an earthworm farm
  3. Install drip irrigation instead of sprays
  4. Plant indigenous plants that are adapted to the natural water regime of your area
  5. Collect grey water for use on your garden
  6. Be bird-friendly but don’t overfeed your birds
  7. Minimise the amount of lawn in your garden
  8. Get to know your garden
  9. Grow your own veggies and herbs
  10. Embrace bees
  11. Install a water butt to catch roof water
  12. Companion plant
  13. Plant a tree on special occasions
  14. Expose your kids to nature and have dirty kids- and fewer allergies

So there you have a few ideas, there are so many ways in which we can live greener lives. Share your ideas with us in the comments below.

With the end of year around the corner, why not think of green gift ideas. Rather than bunches of cut flowers, how about a pot plant? How about planting a tree together as a family to remember the holidays and good times together? How about purchasing a BotSoc membership for your loved ones? Find out all about BotSoc membership here, your membership subscription contributes towards the operations of our NGO which strives to support biodiversity conservation and environmental awareness and education. Members enjoy great benefits for a full year. You can sign up and/or gift membership online here or visit the BotSoc Head Office or bookshops at Kirstenbosch.

May we together strive to live greener lives and each take a stand to safeguard our precious planet, we’ve only got one. Reuse, reduce, recycle! Go green: make a choice, make a change.

Aloe Aloe…what have we here? Learn about sun-loving aloes in Limpopo

Written by Sandra Lennox and Catherine Clulow

We bring you another great contribution from plant-loving folk in Limpopo. With water restrictions underway in SA and there being a stronger need to encourage water-wise gardening and promote indigenous plants, today we share with readers about Aloes. These unique and beautiful plants are sun-loving and hardy and water-wise.

1. Looking for the sun-kissed plant that is Aloe lettyae, Asphodelaceae

This is the grass aloe with spots on both upper and lower leaf surfaces. The plant population dynamics are being studied from a conservation point of view with funding from the Botanical Education Trust.

Aloe lettyae endemic to the critically endangered Woodbush Granite Grassland. Leaves are spotted on both the upper (adaxial) and lower (abaxial) surface. © Pat Lennox

This rare aloe, grows amongst the spring flowers of the Woodbush Granite Grassland and may be seen while on one of the hour long wild-flower walks during the annual mid-September Spring Festival, led by the Friends of Haenertsburg Grasslands (FRoHG). The rare aloe plants, not in flower, were photographed one cloudy and cool day, a good day for photographs, although without rain on the trail while accompanied by eco-enthusiasts from nearby towns, of different generations, and the dog Pluto, who watched closely or rested while waiting on the trail move along to the next flowering plant. The land had been burnt, several plants were in flower, belying the fact that there had been little rain. This shows that underground storage organs such as bulbs and tubers are an important part of the survival of these grassland species, hence clearing land for example for firebreaks irreparably destroys the integrity of the flora. The grasslands have established over a long period of time. Coincidentally, the CITES convention had started in Gauteng, to discuss the preservation of endangered species such as elephant, pangolin and naturally the rhino. While scientists and policy makers talked, there are those who walked, appreciating the priceless value of the grassland wildflowers. Rare and endangered plants with medicinal value have been listed for the Woodbush Granite Grasslands (Dzerefos et al. 2016). Aloe lettyae is a summer-flowering aloe.

2. Aloe greatheadii var. greatheadii

This is the spotted aloe with spots on upper leaf surfaces. Commonly occurring, it is an important plant for bees as the pollen has a high protein and lipid nutritional content. You can read more about attracting bees into your garden here.

Aloe greatheadii var greatheadii in flower on a granite ridge near Houtbosdorp and Moketsi, Limpopo. The leaves are spotted on the upper surfaces. © Pat Lennox

The spotted aloe, or kgopane (Setswana) flowers in winter (June-July) when it is considered to be spectacular. In habit, the plants are stemless, occurring singularly or up to 15 plants, up to 1.7m high. The dark, shiny green leaves present with spotted, elongated markings arranged in bands on the upper (adaxial) surface, while the leaves are light green and unspotted underneath (abaxial surface). The one to three inflorescences are branched. Each raceme presents 30-40 pale pink to bright red flowers. The pollinators are bees and birds. Wind distributes the seeds. The habitat is in grasslands and bushveld biomes, in open woodland and in overgrazed areas, at altitude from 1000 to 1660m. The distribution is the Free State and northern KwaZulu-Natal. Aloe greatheadii is named after Dr J.B. Greathead who collected the type specimen with Dr S. Schönland. The bitter sap is medicinal, used as a treatment for burns, sores and wounds. The young leaves are chopped and boiled to be used as an antiseptic.

In the garden, sow seed in a mix of sand, compost and river sand. Cover with pebbles. Keep in a dry and warm environment. Avoid drying out the growth mixture. Plants are frost and fire tolerant and are used as soil binders on mine dumps.

3. Aloe marlothii A. Berger

This is the very large, single stemmed aloe seen in large stands along the roadside of Polokwane to Tzaneen, interestingly this is unusual as explained further along.

Aloe marlothii in the Mamabolo Bushveld near Moketsi, Limpopo. © Pat Lennox

The large, single stemmed Aloe marlothii occurs in bushveld vegetation on rocky ridges from sea level to approximately 1 600m, at warm temperatures with infrequent frost. Commonly known as the mountain aloe, bergalwyn (Afrikaans), inhlaba or umhlaba (Zulu), Aloe marlothii is distributed from the north-western, northern and north-eastern part of southern Africa and is rewarding to cultivate. Aloe (Greek) refers to the product of dried juice from the leaves, Alloeh (Sanskrit) and Allal (Hebrew).  The species is attributed to the botanist H.W. Rudolf Marloth  These aloes are associated with the African iron age archaeological sites on the Polokwane (formerly  Pietersberg) plateau where the distribution is an anomaly in terms of climate and ecology. The dense stands consist of 80 to 100 year old plants. It is thought that plants were introduced as seeds near the Ndebele villages as the spiny leaves were used to prepare hides for dresses, dried leaf ash may be added to snuff, the flower nectar is edible and leaf decoctions may be used as a vermifuge. The succulent Aloe marlothii plants are suited to drought conditions, as water is stored in stems and leaves, though kudu browse the leaves during dry conditions, thorns protect the rough leaf edges from browsing, dried leaf bases defend the stems and the plant height enables escape from browsers while surviving drought.

4. Aloe arborescens Mill.

This is the most commonly cultivated of southern African aloes. The aloe leaf gel heals sunburn as explained further along.

Aloe arborescens © Callidendron nursery

Commonly known as the kranzaloe (Engl.), kranzalwyn (Afr.), ikalene (Xhosa), inhabane or umlabana (Zulu) it occurs on cliffs in mountainous regions, rocky ranges and outcrops and in dense bush. It occurs in summer rainfall regions and has the widest distribution of the southern African aloes, from the Cape to the eastern coast, KZN and northern South Africa, from sea level to higher altitudes. The cliff dwelling form was formerly known as Aloe mirabilis. Aloe arborescens tolerates drought and it is moderately frost resistant. This is one of the most widely cultivated aloes in the world. It is one of the first aloes collected for cultivation from South Africa. The inflorescences are unbranched and flowers emerge during winter (May to July). These are commonly orange, rarely pure yellow or a combination of orange and yellow. The nectar is edible to birds, for example sunbirds and also bees. Aloe arborescens is recommended for herb gardens. A leaf decoction may be used as an antiseptic and for indigestion, it has been used in stock and poultry farming. The leaf powder is considered to have protective properties against storms. Aloe arborescens are useful barrier plants for example as a hedge. In rural areas, remnants indicate fenced enclosures or cattle kraals.

In conclusion

Aloe lettyae highlights the conservation value of the grasslands. Aloe greatheadii is present as a spotted, grass aloe. Aloe marlothii has been introduced for its economic value. Aloe arborescence is widely cultivated and an early subject for gardens having been collected from the wild. All sun-loving aloes are water-wise and flower while introducing colour.


This article was written with assistance from the Friends of Haenertsburg Grasslands, FRoHG and the Tzaneen Eco-club with inspiration from Gariep nursery, Pretoria which specializes in the cultivation of Aloe. The photos were taken by Pat Lennox.


Aloe greatheadii Schönland var. greatheadii (Internet:; accessed October 2016)

Bredenkamp, G..J. and Van Vuuren, D.R.J. 1987. Note on the occurrence and distribution of Aloe marlothii Berger on the Polokwane (formerly Pietersberg) Plateau. South African Journal of Science 83: 498-550.

Dzerefos, C., Witkowski, E., Kremer-Köhne, S. 2016. Aiming for the biodiversity target with the social welfare arrow: medicinal and other useful plants for a critically endangered grassland ecosystem in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. DOI 10.1080/13504509.2016.1A.4963

Emms, Paul. 2007. Aloe marlothii (Internet:; accessed October 2016)

Hankey, A. and Notten, A. 2004. Aloe arborescens Mill (Internet:; accessed October 2016).

Human, H and Nicolson, S.W. 2006. Nutritional content of fresh, bee collected and stored pollen of Aloe greatheadii var davyana (Asphodelaceae). Phytochemistry 67 (14) 1486-1492.

Letty, C. 1962. Wildflowers of the Transvaal. Struik, Cape Town.

Onderstaal, J. 1984. Transvaal , Lowveld and Escarpment. South African Wildflower Guide 4. Botanical Society of South Africa , Cape Town

Phiri, P.S.M. 2005. Preliminary checklist of plants of Botswana. Sabonet (southern African botanical diversity network) report 32: 107.

Pooley, Elsa. 2005. A field guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern region. The Flora Conservation Trust, Durban.

Reynolds, G.W. 1982. The Aloes of South Africa. Balkema, Cape Town: 481.

Setshogo, M.P. 2005. Preliminary checklist of plants of Botswana. Sabonet, 37: 115.

Smith, G.F., Figueiredo, E., Klopper, R.R. and Crouch, N.R. 2012. Summer flowering species of maculate Aloe. L. (Asphodelaceae, Alloideae). The Aloe zebrine complex from South Africa. Bradleya 30: 155-166.

The Conservation (2016) Conservation convention (23-09-2016)

The Mail & Guardian (2016) The CITES conservation convention (24th to 30th September, 2016)

Van Staden, L. and Kremer-Köhne, S. 2015. Aloe lettyae Reynolds. National assesment: Red list of southern African plants, 2015/1. (Internet:; accessed October 2016)

Van Wyk, B. and Smith, G. 2003. Guide to the Aloes of South Africa edn 2. Briza Publications, Pretoria

Plants never give up: the tale of Scadoxus multiflorus growing in London

Written by Gloria Gross and Catherine Clulow

We received this contribution from a loyal Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) member, currently residing and gardening in London, England. Gloria regularly shares with the BotSoc Head Office the joys and trials of her passion for gardening. Her passion and fascination in plants is exciting to share, so here you have a short tale of Scadoxus multiflorus growing in London.

Who’s Gloria?

So by means of introduction firstly let us share a little about Gloria. Gloria is a designer and illustrator by profession, South African born and now retired and living and loving gardening in London. She left SA in her early years after completing her studies and traveled and worked around the world. Post 1994 she started returning to her birthland, SA and around about the same time joined the Botanical Society of SA.

Gloria remarks: Each year I turn up at Kirstenbosch for my ‘fix’! Standing in that wonderful January sunshine and heat and think – if only…As I reconnected with my roots I started to realise how much I loved native SA plants. The affinity I have with them. I feel a need to have them around me, in my garden. I also love the challenge of struggling with them in this climate especially to over-winter but with few exceptions – I have had some terrific results.

And here we share one example of one of her terrific success stories growing plants far from their homes.

Scadoxus multiflorus, commonly known as the blood flower, Catherine wheel, poison root or Fireball lily, is an indigenous South African plant, and member of the Amaryllidaceae family. With its strikingly showy floral display and evergreen foliage, this beauty is a real treat when its single flower blooms for the season. These plants albeit their beauty are poisinous.

Here’s Gloria’s experience growing this plant far from its home.

In April this year I bought a couple of Scadoxus multiflorus bulbs to replace one that had outgrown itself over the years. Being 7,000 miles away from their natural home they are obliged to live in my studio at the top of the house in London.

They’re not lonely up there because they have the company of several tropical favourites of mine – a Guava tree grown in a pot to make it possible. I planted the seed about six years ago and it’s been fruiting over the past few years. This year the fruits – all three of
them, were amazing in size and flavour. There are several Vygies, and a beautiful Hibiscus Rosa ninensis cooperii. In the winter – they have more company although my Proteas which are in pots seem to prefer remaining on the patio with bubble wrapped pots and fleece hoods at any sign of frost.

I first encountered Scadoxus some years ago in Camphor Avenue at Kirstenbosch and was blown away by it’s stunning colour and showiness. I was well tutored by Alice Notten whose knowledge is daunting and to whom I am really grateful.

The very healthy, large bulbs arrived in a box which I duly opened and left safe for planting. Now fast forward to September. These bulbs which I had unintentionally neglected had remained in their box growing strongly but very white as the box they were in shut out virtually all the light. It was also September and I had bought these to plant in April/May, being Spring here, and my guilt was mounting. There were three choices – plant them, hold to April or fling them. The third was discounted pretty quickly because the bulbs were so spectacular so I decided to plant there and then in pots to live as their predecessors had, in my studio as there’s no alternative in this climate.

That was 10th September. It’s been something of a manic race to complete their cycle. They absolutely had to flower no matter what. I find it incredible how they shot off as if nothing had happened, one far ahead of the other. The light was getting very low and autumn was beginning to close in. The first shoots turned green in a matter of days and on September 24th, the first flower was in open bud and fully opened on the 27th while the second plant was still very much in tight bud form.


But, not to be left behind in this survival race, and incredible by the 29th there was a beautiful flower waiting to open. On the 3rd October this second one opened whilst it’s companion was starting to droop.

8th October the first lot of crisp green leaves were stretching skywards and the competition arrived on the 14th. Now, on the 25th October just a month from starting this, the leaves are glossy and beautiful with two, now, withering flowers.

It feels like I have been watching a sped up movie. I wonder how long they will take to die down and rest before the next show and whether that will be back to the correct timing of April/May 2017? Isn’t it extraordinary how plants never give up.


Isn’t that inspiring? It really is true, plants never give up and we ought to  take a lesson from them.

Happy gardening to all our readers! Until next time…

For more information:

Please visit PlantZAfrica here.