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Aloe polyphylla [AL-oh, pol-ee-FIL-uh] is an evergreen succulent perennial plant type belonging to the Asphodelaceae family.
This plant grows naturally in southern Africa in the Maluti mountains located in Lesotho, where it is the national plant.
The specific epithet, polyphylla, is a combination of two Latin words. Poly means many, and phylla means leaves.
When mature these aloe plants contain between 50 and 100 leaves.
You may hear it called its common names including:
- Spiral Aloe
- Coiled Aloe
- Crown Aloe (Kroonaalwyn in the Afrikaans language)
- Basotoland Aloe
In its natural environment, the plant grows in rocky, mineral-rich soil, from rocky crevices, and on high, grassy mountain slopes and is subjected to a generous amount of winter snowfall.
The plant is now considered endangered because the weather patterns it needs to thrive have changed dramatically.
Other Interesting Aloe Varieties:
- Aloe aristata
- Aloe arborescens – Candelabra plant
- Aloe variegata – Partridge Breast Tiger Aloe
Aloe Polyphylla Care
Size & Growth
Spiral Aloe’s rosettes are made up of five rows of sharp gray-green leaves.
Each of the rows contains 15 – 30 individual leaves, which create a rosette as large as 2′ feet across.
Each Crown Aloe plant may grow to be a foot high and 2′ feet wide.
This cold-hardy, stemless aloe succulent grows in a beautiful spiraling formation and may spiral either to the left or the right.
Individual leaves of the plant are quite sharp and menacing.
South African native people (the Basotho) believe the direction of the spiral indicates the plant’s gender, but the fact is the flowers of the plant are bisexual.
Flowering & Fragrance
Spiral Aloe produces pretty salmon-pink flowers in the springtime. Blooms does not happen right away.
This slow-growing plant takes many years to attain maturity, but once it does, it will produce a long flower spike with an abundant number of red or pink flowers.
When the flowers are pollinated, they produce many seeds.
Unfortunately, in the plants, natural setting, the birds who pollinate these flowers are also endangered.
Whether pollination could be carried out by other species of birds such as hummingbirds is unknown.
Light & Temperature
This is an outdoor succulent and does not do well growing indoors.
It is quite a cold hardy, and adult plants can tolerate temperatures down to 20° degrees Fahrenheit (-6° C).
In its native home of South Africa, Spiral Aloe endures temperatures of 5° degrees Fahrenheit (-15° C) and is often blanketed by snow.
Although this is a cold-hardy succulent, immature plants are not as cold hardy.
If temperatures drop below 30° degrees Fahrenheit (-1° C) in your area, you should keep the younger plants in containers to be brought indoors during the wintertime.
You may eventually be able to transition them into full-time outdoor growth over time.
The plant can do well in a wide variety of hardiness zones up to USDA zone 10a.
These plants like bright sunlight for at least six hours a day. The south-facing location provides the best sunlight.
Harsh, hot full sun will kill them.
Watering & Feeding
Spiral Aloe is unusual in its needs for water and food.
Its root system is shallow, and it is adapted to its native land where the soil is rich, and rain and snowfall are abundant.
For this reason, it’s important to provide very sharply draining soil and water and feed this unusual succulent frequently.
A six month, slow-release fertilizer mixed into the soil at the time of planting will take care of its needs throughout the first growing season.
If you repot the plant annually, this is all you need to do.
For plants having been in the same pot for more than a year, apply a liquid fertilizer a couple of times during the growing season.
Follow the directions on the fertilizer packaging.
There is no need to dilute by half as you would with most succulents because this plant likes frequent watering, so the fertilizer will be washed away over time.
Soil & Transplanting
Plant Spiral Aloe on a mound of well-draining soil and at a slant so water runs through it, the lower leaves will not become waterlogged.
The idea is to mimic the plant’s natural setting.
It usually grows in the wild on a steep slope with loose, sharply draining substrate.
It receives an ample amount of rain and snow, which runs off quickly.
In these two videos, a landscaper performs maintenance and repots a gigantic Spiral Aloe.
Grooming & Maintenance
As the plant grows, the bottom leaves will dry out and die off.
It’s important not to remove these leaves prematurely as the plant re-absorbs the moisture and nutrients from them to enable it to make more foliage and flowers.
Wait until the leaves are almost completely absorbed, and all remaining are the dry, papery thin outer husk.
How To Propagate Spiral Aloe
Spiral Aloe is not as easy to propagate as most succulents.
It will not grow from leaf cuttings but will produce offsets. It will also grow from seeds.
When growing from offsets, the key to success is patience.
You must take good care of your parent plant for several years and ensure its happiness.
Eventually, the aloe will produce offsets which you should separate from the parent plant using a sharp, clean knife.
Be sure the pups are free of any loose dirt and then simply lay them in a warm, well-aerated location for a day or two to allow the cut to callous over before replanting into their pots of well-draining soil.
Aloe Polyphylla Spiral Pest or Diseases
Crown Aloe may be subject to predation by snout beetles and aphids.
Proper planting, drainage, aeration, and watering will help prevent aphids.
If snout beetles become problematic, water the plant with a systemic insecticide so the pests will consume as they feed on the plant.
Too much moisture and humidity can cause fungal infections and root rot.
Prevention is far better than cure in this instance.
Be sure to provide well-draining soil and plant the aloe in a slanted position on a mound so excess water can runoff.
Is this plant toxic or poisonous?
In its homeland of South Africa, the Spiral Aloe is endangered and revered.
It is used by the native people as a medicine plant and a magic plant.
Even so, Crown Aloe is not edible and is toxic to pets and people.
Be sure to protect yourself when handling your Spiral Aloe.
Remember the individual leaves are quite sharp, and the sap may be irritating.
Is this plant invasive?
This finicky, endangered aloe is not considered invasive in any part of the United States or any other location.
It is struggling to survive in its native habitat, and anything we can do to help preserve the species is a good thing.
Suggested Polyphylla Spiral Aloe Uses
These slow-growing succulents make superb specimen pieces planted on a slope, in a rock garden, or even vertically in a wall planter.
Always plant at an angle to make sure rainwater drains away from the crown freely.