Willem says: 'The Phyto-Philes are for plant lovers of every size and shape, colour and flavour. As with my Colours of Wildlife column, I'll be featuring one species per article, illustrated with sketches, paintings, and/or photos. Over time I hope to be showcasing the amazing diversity of weird and wonderful plants that occur in South Africa, while also from time to time looking at the flora of other countries. While featuring many spectacular species, I'll not be neglecting the smaller, more humble kinds that are nevertheless fascinating in their own right.'
This time I have for you another very iconic species from Southern Africa, the Quiver Tree or Aloe dichotoma, 'Kokerboom' in Afrikaans. I have already written an article about them for h2g2, but back then couldn't supply a really nice picture. I try and remedy that here, with three full colour watercolour paintings as well as two sketches! The sketches show the Giant Quiver Tree, Aloe pillansii, a closely related species.
Rather than repeat the article I'll expand here on some of the interesting things it mentions. The quiver tree is actually a species of aloe. Many of you will know aloes, since they are widely grown outside of their native areas in Africa, Madagascar and Asia. Most aloes form low rosettes of thick succulent leaves; a few form single tall stems, and only a handful form large, branched trunks. This is one of the latter! Its species name, dichotoma, means 'forked' in Greek. It achieves a height of 7 m, and a trunk over a metre thick, making it one of the largest of the aloes. The rosettes at the tips of the branches are similar to those of the smaller aloes, as are the branched inflorescences carrying yellow flowers which my painting shows close up. These emerge from the rosettes in July and August; like in many other aloes they constitute a precious source of nectar seeing many birds and other animals through the Winter. Even humans eat the flower buds; they are said to resemble asparagus in taste.
Once again, these trees are so fascinating that they need two pages to show and tell. Continue reading, and viewing Willem's art, on Page Two.