This beautiful species occurs widespread from DR Congo and Tanzania to Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia on rocky slopes in wooded areas and cultivated lands at altitudes between 1200 and 2400 m.
It is also often cultivated as an ornamental as well as medicinal plant.
It has upright stems (often creeping at the base) 0.5-1.3 m. or more tall, with leaves up to 25 cm long and about 13 cm wide which are often marbled with brown to purple markings on both sides.
The inflorescences are 30 cm or more tall and the flowers are white (rarely cream), sometimes flushed with pale pink. The flower have long tubes, usually between 4.5 and 12 cm long.
This distinctive species forms clumps to 30 cm tall and 40 cm wide by branching dichotomously (an uncommon thing in the genus).
The branches are usually 2-3.5 cm thick and 2-7 cm long, with 10-16 ribs.
The plants grow in the eastern part of Somaliland at altitudes between 1200-1500 m on open plains where the topsoil is often a layer of powder-like limestone.
Plant in cultivation; scanned slide
In general, this species is stemless and growing singly or in small groups, but sometimes groups of over 20 rosettes are formed.
Each rosette has 14-16 leaves, about 16 cm long and 6 cm wide at the base, usually olive-green with many whitish-green spots, but in some cases light green and unspotted.
The flowers are very striking and because of their conspicuous stripes apparently unique within the genus.
The plants occur on gypsum soil in the Al Madu (Ahl Medow) Mountain Range (north of Erigavo) in Somaliland, at 1,500 to 1,550 m, mostly in shade.
Aloe somaliensis was described in 1899, from plants that were raised at Kew from seeds that had been collected a few years before, probably at Sheikh pass in Somaliland Protectorate (as it was then called). It is now known to occur not only in Somaliland but also in Djibouti, on rocky slopes at altitudes between 700 and 1700 m.
It may be of interest to know that the accompanying pictures were taken late January 2015, likely at roughly the same spot the original seeds came from.
The plants grow singly or in small groups and bear 12-16 leaves, usually narrowly lance-shaped and about 20 cm long.
The inflorescences are 60-80 cm tall.
Polytomus means something like much divided and refers to the fact that the plants are much more branched than in otherwise similar species like S. scottii and S. odora.
In nature the plants form compact shrubs up to about a meter tall; in cultivation they may reach 3 m.
They are locally common in the Sanaag region of northern Somaliland in dry bush land on stony plains and slopes at altitudes between 1000 and 1900 m.
The flowers range in colour from white and yellow to pink, purple and magenta. They usually appear in October and November, but the accompanying pictures were made in late January.
Scobinifolia means “with rasp-like leaves”, referring to the fact that the leaves of this species are rough to the touch.
The plants usually form small groups, with or without short stems. The inflorescence is 60-70 cm tall with yellow, orange or scarlet flowers mainly appearing between September and January.
The species used to occur in vast numbers around Erigavo in northern Somaliland, usually on exposed gypsum plains at an altitude of roughly 1250-1800 meters.
Unfortunately it is now considered endangered, as a result of habitat loss and degradation caused by logging and overgrazing (see first picture).
To be continued.