Aloe marlothii (Mountain Aloe)
Plant image

A striking, robust, large, single-stemmed aloe with a majestic presence. Aloe marlothii can reach up to 6 metres tall and is drought and frost hardy.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Aloe marlothii

Common names:
Mountain Aloe (E)
Bergaalwyn (A)
umhlaba (Z)
Sekgopha (NSo)
Inhlaba (Swa)
Mhanga (Tso)
Mokgopha (Tsw)
Tshikhopha (Ven)

Aloe spectabilis

Plant family:
Asphodelaceae (as-foh-del-AY-see-ee)
- Includes genera Aloe, Asphodelus and Kniphofia

Plant categories:
Cacti and Succulents; Non-herbaceous Perennials

SA tree no:

Name derivation & history:
The genus Aloe stems from the Greek aloe, pertaining to the product of the dried juice from aloe leaves, probably derived from the Semetic (alloeh), Hebrew (allal) and Sanskrit words.

The specific name marlothii is named after the well-known botanist H.W. Rudolf Marloth.

There are some 500 species within the genus, of which 135 occur in southern Africa and some 125 in South Africa alone.



Leaf habit:

2 to 4 metres (occasionally up to 6 metres)

Up to 2½ metres

Has thorns

Plant shape:
Large, single-stemmed aloe with old dried leaves remaining on the stem below the upper living leaves.

Leaf description:
Leaves are large, broad and succulent, light green to greyish green to blue-green, up to 1500 x 250 mm, having a broad base tapering to a sharp point, covered with spines on upper and lower surfaces and maroon- coloured teeth with orange tips along leaf margins. Old, dried leaves remain attached to the stem.

Spine or thorn description:

Flower description:
Flowers are held on racemes on a branched candelabra-shaped inflorescence, having up to 30 racemes (single spikes covered with individual flowers). Flower colour varies from the typical orange-red to yellow or bright red and may be present between May and September. The distinguishing character lies in the slanted inflorescences. They are usually almost horizontal but may be almost vertical in some forms.

Flower colour:
Varies from orange-red to yellow or bright red

Flowering months:
Between May and September

Fruit description:
Fruit a lily-seed resembling capsule

Other distinctive features:


Natural distribution:
Aloe marlothii occurs from the North-West Province, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique to KwaZulu-Natal north of Durban, from sea level to 1 600 metres.

It is found mainly in bushveld vegetation along mountainous areas, rocky terrain and slopes where temperatures are warmer and frost infrequent. Mountain ranges of the Drakensburg, Lebombo, Zoutpansberg and Waterberg have large populations of the species. It is thus not surprising that the common names bergalwyn or mountain aloe have been applied. At high altitudes however, the species does not occur in very cold areas, but the species does exhibit tolerance to frost.

Water requirements:
Waterwise (little water required)

Frost tolerance:

Light conditions:

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.


Interaction with physical surroundings:
Aloe marlothii is a succulent and is therefore well suited to withstand periods of drought, owing to reserves of water stored in the leaves and stem. The thorns on the leaves and very rough, hard, dried leaves along the stem act as a defence against browsing animals. In times of extreme drought, kudu have been observed browsing the leaves despite the plants defences and may denude the leaves of the plant entirely. If conditions are favourable, plants recover within six months. Another defence against browsing is the eventual height obtained by A. marlothii to escape browsing animals. By growing out of reach of browsers the species has a greater chance of surviving drought.

The flowers of A. marlothii are rich in nectar and provide an important source of energy for sunbirds. The seeds are thin and papery and are dispersed in gusts of winds and vortexes. Seeds are also dispersed by people who use the plant and through garden plants bordering wild areas.
Attracts birds
Attracts insects

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
Leaf and root decoctions are used by the Zulus for roundworm infestations and by other cultures for stomach problems and horse sickness.

Ground leaf-powder (or ash) has been reported to be useful as a snuff admixture.

Aloe marlothii will grow easily and with very little care in most South African gardens and is recommended for gardens where the species occurs naturally. Bear in mind this is a summer rainfall species and therefore naturally thrives under warm wet summers and warm to cool, dry winters. Thus grown within its natural distribution range, plants may require less water care. In cultivation the species can tolerate additional watering in both summer and winter rainfall gardens and often as a result the species may appear quite different from the natural forms (i.e. leaves lighter green and less thorny). It is not necessary to deprive your specimens of water, only be aware that over-watering will steadily deteriorate their general health.

Aloe marlothii can be grown from seed with relative ease. Use a nursery seed tray, pot or any container with drainage holes. Fill the bottom of the container with a layer of stones and a thin layer of compost to ensure drainage and prevent soil escaping from the drainage holes. Sow seeds in spring, directly in river sand by evenly sprinkling the papery seeds over the surface. Cover seeds with a light sprinkling of sand (just enough to cover seeds). Water with a fine rose spray to prevent seeds and sand becoming displaced and place in a warm sunny position. Place under cover such as eves, cold frame or greenhouse in a well-ventilated position. It is important to use sterilized soil and containers to avoid disease setting in. To avoid seedlings damping-off from the wilting fungus, a preventative fungicide can be applied.

Water seeds of A. marlothii daily until germination, thereafter reducing watering to every few days. Do not water in the late afternoon or evening as this will promote damping-off. As the seedlings begin to show their succulence and aloe shape they require less watering, however they will develop faster with regular watering and care. Transfer seedlings at any stage from several months to two years into small pots with a more loamy soil mix. Place a layer of stone chip with a few centimetres of compost at the bottom of the pot. Various potting mixes work provided they are well drained (i.e. two thirds of soil comprising river sand and compost and one third nursery potting mix or rose and shrub mix). Liquid organic fertilizers will improve general vigour and resistance to disease attack.

Pests & diseases:
White scale is unsightly and can virtually cover the entire plant with a white-dotted, paint-like appearance. Control by scrubbing either with soapy water or soap and oil or nicotine sulphate and soap. As a last resort spray with a contact insecticide.

Aloe rust fungus forms black spots on the leaves and cannot be controlled by spraying. It is recommended that infected leaves are removed and plants kept healthy by feeding. Alternatively remove entire plants if severely affected.

Aloe cancer is caused by mites and leads to deformed leaves and inflorescences. It is best to remove the entire plant form the garden to prevent disease spread.

Snout beetles reap havoc by burrowing into the stem and depositing their eggs and subsequent developing larvae. Larvae hollow out the stem leading to collapse of the plant. Treat by drilling a tiny hole in the stem and injecting systemic insecticide.

On the Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg) Plateau there is somewhat of an anomaly in the distribution of Aloe marlothii in terms of climatic and ecological preferences. Here dense stands of large 80-100 year-old plants occur on colder, flatter and more gradually sloped, frost frequent areas where they would usually be absent. The explanation for this is intriguing since the stands occur on archaeological sites where the African Iron Age Ndebele village ruins are. The villages date from 1650 to 1880 when the Ndebele occupied the area. A. marlothii occurs at the ruins along the ashy deposits and stone-walled sites where the soils are enriched and the plants are thought to have germinated shortly after the Boer conquest of the Ndebele in 1855. The seeds were brought to the Ndebele villages from plant material they used for a variety of uses such as: using the spiny leaves to scrape hides to prepare women's dresses, using ash from dried leaves for an additive to snuff, eating nectar from the flowers, leaf decoctions to treat roundworm and tapeworm and fresh leaf sap used on women's breasts to wean babies. It is believed that seeds accumulated at the sites this way and that large-scale establishment of A. marlothii took place 20 to 30 years after the sites were abandoned in 1855. Thus large specimens may be up to 110 years old and can be viewed at the Maxonwa Ndebele archaeological site.

Aloe spectabilis from Kwazulu-Natal, with its racemes more erect, is lately regarded as part of Aloe marlothii

South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

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