H. mucronata is a very variable species, often even at varietal level. One of the few constant characters is the fact that the leaves are soft , incurved and slightly pellucid, with translucent margins and keel.
Var. mucronata occurs from the Barrydale area to north of Oudtshoorn.
All pictures were taken at the same spot within Barrydale itself: the first five on 8 Aug. 2017 (late winter/early spring), the last two on 28 Jan. 2016 (midsummer).
The first name that comes to mind on seeing a plant of this species is probably Argyroderma fissum (unless you are a real expert of course).
The two species share the same growth form as well as size and shape of the leaves; often they also grow near to each other. Fortunately the fruits are rather different and stay on the plants for a long time. (The Antimima has fruits with 5 locules, whereas in Argyroderma fruits there are at least 10 compartments).
The finger-shaped leaves are up to 3 cm long. The flowers come mostly in threes and appear in May-July; they are pinkish-purple and 1.8-2.5 cm in diameter.
In some places the species forms large mats on flats or gentle loamy slopes with an open cover of quartz pebbles. According to the literature, it occurs in the Vredendal-Vanrhynsdorp area, but last year I also found plants in the northern half of the Knersvlakte.
In the wild, this taxon is rare and endangered by both habitat degradation (as a result of overgrazing) and harvesting (for medicinal purposes).
Plants are found in the Little Karoo from Montagu to near Uniondale and in the southern Great Karoo from Matjiesfontein to Gamkapoort and Klaarstroom; they usually grow inside bushes.
The plants have few to many stems (3-6 cm in diameter) and form shrubs up to 80 cm tall and 2 meter across.
Flowers mainly appear in the upper part of the stem and have a nasty smell; they are 1.6-2 cm across and pinkish brown to very dark purplish brown, with a raised annulus.
My good friend George Hattingh of Calitzdorp, with whom I have spent many wonderful hours in the field, has kindly given me permission to make use of his pictures as and when needed, for which I am very grateful.
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.).
This species has a number of uncommon features, making it easy to recognise – once you know what to look for.
It is a small shrub up to 15 cm tall of which the short shoots are decked out with small spine-like projections and it has boat-shaped leaves to 1 cm long and 0.5 cm wide (those on upper shoots are more or less round). The leaves are covered with papillae which are more or less cobblestone-shaped, but much longer on the edges.
The flowers are solitary, pinkish-purple to almost white and to about 3 cm in diameter; they appear in July-September and are followed by fruits with 6 (instead of the usual 5) compartments.
The plants occur in deep soil usually covered with quartz pebbles, from Namaqualand to Clanwilliam.
Among all the various growth forms in the genus Euphorbia, the design of this species stands out as something singular.
The plants consist of a thick main stem covered with numerous branches up to 8 cm long, decreasing in length towards the top of the plant.
In this way, a compact cone is formed up to 60 cm tall and to 25 cm across at base. In some cases however, the plants are not shaped quite so neatly, resulting in a far less appealing and peculiar habit of growth (see pictures).
The spines are in fact sterile flower stalks; they are 0.8 to 7 cm long and arise from both main stem and branches.
The species occurs on stony slopes and flats from Steinkopf in Namaqualand to the western Little Karoo.