For many years, I have known A. brevifolia to be one of South Africa’s smallest Aloes. It is common in cultivation, but up to last month, I had never seen a plant in the wild. So, when someone gave me directions to a locality he had visited a few days before, I did not wait long to go there, especially because it was in the middle of the flowering season.
It was easy to drive up to a place from where I could see the plants growing on a steep slope. But between the car and the slope, there was a little stream and a lot of dead and live shrubs, so it took a lot of time and effort to come near enough to the plants to get some useful pictures. When I saw them from nearby, I was most surprised by their size, as they were over 3 times bigger than the biggest A. brevifolia I had ever seen before.
On digging into the literature, I found the following information:
Aloe brevifolia has 3 varieties: brevifolia, postgenita and depressa.
Var. brevifolia forms dense colonies of small rosettes. These are about 8 cm in diameter, with 30-40 leaves up to 6 cm long and 2 cm wide. This is by far the most common form in cultivation.
Var. depressa has open rosettes up to 30 cm in diameter; solitary or up to 3. The leaves number about 60, 12-15 cm long x 6 cm wide.
Var. postgenita is intermediate between the two others.
In all three, the inflorescence is about 60 cm tall, with 4 cm long flowers in shades of red (sometimes yellow). Flowering time is October to December.
The species as a whole, occurs in the Western Cape, from Caledon to Cape Agulhas. Var. depressa seems to be known only from the site referred to above.
Plants of this species often occur in great quantities as pioneers in disturbed soil (see first picture). They occur throughout the Little Karoo to the Eastern Cape, form robust shrubs up to 1 m tall and are often heavily browsed.
The reddish-brown branches become rough with age and are characteristic for the species; they bear cylindrical leaves up to 1.1 cm long.
The flowers are pink-purple to dark purple and about 2.2 cm in diameter, appearing in spring and summer (Oct. – Feb.).
Pictures taken 3 December 2017.