On an upward spiral

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This CITES-listed plant is protected by law and it is illegal to purchase a spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) from just any vendor in Lesotho. Safari News met up with Machakale Mashili, based off Mashili Street in Ha-Lejone, who grows and records sales of the ornamental succulent. Mashili was trained by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) and propagates the plant in one of their livelihood projects. 

Mashili has always had green fingers. She has been growing spiral aloes in her backyard since 2004, and is passing the craft on to her grandchildren. She records all the aloes she sells for the LHDA and studiously protects her stock with shade nets. The only visitor she will tolerate is a little green bird: the malachite sunbird is the spiral aloe’s pollinator. “The bird has a long narrow-shaped beak adapted to enter tubular flowers to gain access for nectar, and in the process pollinates the plant,” explains Mosiuoa Bereng, curator at LHDA.

spiral aloe

Photo: Ukali Media

Malachite sunbirds also pollinate the aloes at Katse Botanical Gardens. Mashili was part of a community empowerment project that taught residents to propagate aloes. “Because natural resources take time to provide a return on investment, others withdrew. However, Mashili continued with the project and benefited,” says Bereng.

“The main threat to spiral aloes is over-harvesting from wild colonies to sell to tourists,” he says. Spiral aloes also grow on steep slopes in shallow soil and are at risk of soil erosion, often caused by over-grazing.
Tourists are advised against buying aloes from roadside vendors as larger plants die when transplanted. However, spiral aloes planted at lower altitudes as seedlings can sometimes survive. quickly, within one to two weeks. Katse Botanical Gardens is currently propagating aloes to repopulate wild populations as well as for sale to tourists.

spiral aloe national plant of Lesotho

Photo: Ukali Media

The LHDA monitors two wild spiral aloe colonies in Lesotho, Ha-Sechache and Ha-Nkhunyane, for seedling recruitment. “People in the vicinity of the colony are usually sensitised to the importance of protecting the colony against vandalism,” says Bereng. “We produce around 600–800 seedlings a year, some of which are replanted in the wild.”

Lesotho spiral aloe nursery grower Machakale Mashili

Machakale Mashili has been growing spiral aloes for 15 years. Photos: Ukali Media

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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