Aloe somaliensis is one of the most attractive members of its genus making it justifiably popular. It was first collected by Miss Edith Cole on an expedition to northern Somalia in 1894 – 1895 led by E. Lort-Phillips. The most famous succulent collected at the same time is the stapeliad Edithcolea grandis named in her honour. The aloe was named by Kew botanist William Watson in 1899.
My largest plant of A. somaliensis (Fig.1) is 40cm across and has been in the collection for 15 years so it’s not a fast grower. It has three rosettes, the largest of which is 30cm diameter, although it can grow larger than this. The leaves are up to 18cm long, 4cm across at the widest point, thick and succulent, dark glossy green with numerous elongated oval very pale green spots (Fig.2). The leaf margins are adorned with pungent dark green teeth.
In August 2022 my plant produced two inflorescences. One of these is unbranched and 65cm tall, whilst the other is 75cm tall bearing two branches (Fig.3). The 23mm long flowers are very typical of aloes being dark coral red with darker mid stripe with white spots (Fig.4).
Aloe somaliensis belongs to a group of species characterised by modest size and glossy, pale spotted leaves having a wide distribution in Africa, mostly north of the equator (Carter et al., 2011). Its closest relatives are all endemic to Somalia: Aloe jucunda, A. hemmingii and A. peckii, from which it differs in having the largest rosettes and the tallest, usually but not always well-branched inflorescences. Of these, A. jucunda is well known and popular in cultivation and differs especially in its small rosettes that can develop into quite large clumps; its flower spike is also much smaller, being only up to 35cm tall and is always unbranched. Aloe hemmingii and A. peckii are less frequently encountered in cultivation.
Carter, S., Lavranos, J.J., Newton, L.E. & Walker, C.C. (2011) Aloes. The definitive guide. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew & The British Cactus and Succulent Society.
Text and Photos: Colin C. Walker
No part of this article may be reproduced without permission. Copyright BCSS & the Author 2023