Alan Beverly was fresh out of college and a Peace Corps volunteer when he discovered a plant that became a lifelong passion.
Hiking the rugged mountains of Lesotho in central Africa, guided by “friendly, hardy Basotho people” (whose children shrieked with fear when they saw him, their first white man), he “found Aloe polyphylla perched on nearly vertical north-facing basalt far out of reach…emeralds set in nature’s mosaic.” That was in the 1970s. Since then, due to grazing herds and the near-extinction of the plant’s natural pollinator, the equally exquisite malachite sunbird, spiral aloes might not exist today—certainly not in cultivation—if Beverly had not brought home seed.
Spiral aloes seduce anyone who sees them. They’re challenging to grow in my part of the country (Southern CA), because they don’t like our hot summers. But elsewhere, in colder climates, it does fine—providing you understand its cultivation requirements.
Aloe polyphylla needs extremely well-drained soil and does best planted on a slope, the steeper the better. Here, it’s growing in the ground at Succulent Gardens Nursery, on the coast south of San Francisco. In habitat, its roots are continually bathed by ice water and it’s often snow-covered. Unlike other aloes, it goes down to 10 degrees.
Some spiral aloes swirl clockwise…
…others, counterclockwise. Collectors covet one of each.
Alan Beverly is now a professional landscape designer in Santa Cruz, CA, who cultivates and sells spiral aloes. This photo is from his website, which offers extensive information about the plants. When he emailed me his permission to use the photo, he added, “It would be good to mention that this is a rare event to see a flowering plant, and hobbyists should not count on this feature becoming manifest for them.” It’s worth noting, too, that seed-grown plants—like those he offers—demonstrate better form and are potentially more disease resistant than those from tissue culture. The latter have a less tight spiral and more upright leaves. Succulent Gardens is trialing both.
And here’s a new spin on the concept of Designing with Succulents (the title of my first book): I designed a spiral aloe mug and stamp for Succulent Chic, my online shop. Wouldn’t it be fun to have earrings, too? Someone needs to design a line of succulent jewelry. So many succulents have such great forms!