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Origin and Habitat: Aloe pearsonii is endemic to Helskloof in the Richtersveld National Park and adjacent mountains across the Orange River in Namibia.
Altitude range: 300-1500 metres above sea level.
Habitat and ecology: Central Richtersveld Mountain Shrubland. This species occurs in pockets of sandy soil among rocks in one of the hottest and driest parts of the Namaqualand fog belt. Often in steep, rocky, south- and southwest-facing slopes in arid shrubland. Precipitation is mostly from nocturnal mist, and rain is very scanty, mostly in winter. The colony at Helskloof is extensive and the plants literally cover the mountains on either side of the rocky road pass. In South Africa Aloe pearsonii have declined by at least 30%over the past 10 years, due to dramatic increases in grazing pressure since 2006. It is a spiny species that is not usually browsed, but overgrazing has reduced palatable species to such an extent that desperate livestock are now starting to browse this species, and many plants are dying as a result of the damage caused. Recruitment is poor, and mortality of mature individuals is high.
- Aloe pearsonii Schönland
ENGLISH: Pearson's aloe, Richtersveld Aloe
AFRIKAANS (Afrikaans): Pearson-se-aalwyn
Description: Aloe pearsonii is an erect, shrubby aloe, 1-2 m tall with many unbranched stems arising from the ground. It has triangular leaves that grow in dense layers, with four or five leaves per layer. These layers curve downwards in an attractive geometric pattern. The leaves are mostly greyish, unspotted and often show different colouring on the same plant. At the top the leaves are fully exposed to the sun and tend to turn reddish whereas the leaves at a lower insertion level are partially shaded and thus remain green . The inflorescences are simple or with few branches, and the racemes are generally conical in outline, with unopened buds being held horizontally or obliquely downwards. The flowers of A. pearsonii are narrow and cylindric, borne on long pedicels. The flowers are red to yellow with the stamens shortly protruding from the mouth, 30 mm long. This is one of the slowest-growing of all aloes, and some of the large shrubs in the Richtersveld are probably several hundred years old.
Derivation of specific name: The plant is named after Prof. Henry Harold W. Pearson (1870-1916), English botanist naturalized in RSA and founder and first director of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens,who first collected the plant in 1910.
Stems: Elongate, rigidly erect, 1-2 m tall, and about 0.5 m in diameter, sometimes with internodes visible between the leaves.
Leaves: 4- or 5-ranked, and neatly arranged in vertical rows, arising from near the ground, decussate, deltoid, thick, short and leathery, reflexed (curving downward) and overlapping the leaf below, 50-90 mm long, 15-30 mm wide, biconvex to slightly channelled, greyish to dull bluish or greenish, often flushed red-brown and but red in times of drought, unspotted, with faint reddish striae, keel not dentate and the margins are toothed, but not cartilaginous.
Inflorescence: Lateral, simple to 3-branched, with scattered sterile bracts; racemes conical, subdense to capitate, very dense; bracts 6-7 x 4 mm, 1-3-nerved.
Flowers: golden yellow, or red with golden expanded mouth, straight, narrow, 20-25 mm long; outer segments free to middle, inner segments free but dorsally adnate to outer for about half their length; pedicels ca. 21 mm long. Anthers exserted 2-4 mm. Ovary 6-7 x 2-3 mm; style exserted 5-6 mm.
Fruit: About 22 long and 7-8 mm in diameter.
Flowering time January to February.
Similar species: Aloe dabenorisana (no. 90) is similar to A. pearsonii in having reflexed leaves, but in that species the leaves are larger, the plant is pendent not erect, and the anthers and style are not or hardly exserted.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) J.P. Roux, “Flora of Southern Africa” 2003
2) Dieter J. von Willert, Benno M. Eller, Marinus J. A. Werger, Enno Brinckmann, Hans-Dieter Ihlenfeldt “Life Strategies of Succulents in Deserts: With Special Reference to the Namib Desert” CUP Archive, 13 February 1992
3) Urs Eggli, Leonard E. Newton “Etymological Dictionary of Succulent Plant Names” Springer Science & Business Media, 11 March 2004
4) David Fleminger, “The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape: Including Namaqualand” 30° South Publishers, 2008
5) “The Flowering Plants of Africa”, Volumes 52-53, Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agricultural Technical Services, Republic of South Africa., 1992
6) Barbara Curtis, “Tree Atlas of Namibia” National Botanical Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, 1 January 2005
7) John C. Manning “Namaqualand” Briza, 1 January 2009
8) Hilton-Taylor, C. 1996. “Red data list of southern African plants”. Strelitzia 4. South African National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
9) Raimondo, D., von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. 2009. “Red List of South African Plants”. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
10) Victor, J.E. 2002. South Africa. In: J.S. Golding (ed), “Southern African plant Red Data Lists”. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report 14 (pp. 93-120), SABONET, Pretoria.
11) Van Wyk, P.C.V. & Raimondo, D. 2015. “Aloe pearsonii” Schönland. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2018/07/29
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