Flora of the Mountain Kingdom

Spiral Aloe (Aloe Polyphylla) – Lesotho Flowers

December 1, 2010

Aloe polyphylla (Kharetsa – SS, Spiral aloe – English, Kroonaalwyn – Afrikaans meaning “crown aloe”)


The Spiral Aloe is a rare and beautiful aloe found in the Maluti Mountains. Very characteristic is the unique spiral arrangement of the leaves. It was discovered by Mr F.H. Holland in 1915 at Phurumela Mountains of Lesotho, and then Dr Schonland of Albany Museum in Grahamstown described it but not published until 1934.  It was then described officially by Mr N. S. Pillans in South African Gardening and Country Life using Dr Schonland notes. (Sean Gildenhuys).


Description and identification:

Family – Aloeceae

It has a distinct physical appearance. The leaves are arranged in spirals in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. The Basotho people believe the direction of the spiral indicates the sex of the plant but in fact, the flowers are actually bisexual.  The leaves are broad and grey-green in colour with an off-center ridge along the surface of the leaf. The leaves have spines at the margins. Plants have approximately 150 leaves each, which explains the name “polyphylla”. “Poly” means “many” and “phylla” is Greek for “leaves”.

Spiral Aloe with FlowersThe flowers are attractive, ranging from dull red to salmon-pink. They may be yellow occasionally. Plants usually flower in spring and early summer. It is stemless plant and the mature plant can reach over a meter in diameter and up to 80 cm in height.

Habitat information and distribution:

It is endemic (found only) to Lesotho and endangered plant. It is widely distributed and occurs in the mountains above 2000 meters above sea level which is characterized by an alpine climate (freezing and dry winter, wet summers that reaches up to 30° with lighting and wild fires during rainy periods). This plant is found naturally in colonies in the mountains of Lesotho consisting of 300 and more individuals. It is usually found on north facing basaltic rocky slopes with generally thin soil.

Conservation Status:

It is mostly threatened by illegal harvest as a garden plant. Most of the remaining habitats are also threatened by overgrazing and unplanned fires in the Maloti Mountains although fire seemed not to be causing a direct impact on the plants.


It is a criminal offence to remove plants or seed of Aloe polyphylla from the natural habitat or to buy plants from roadside vendors.


Plant use:

Aloe polyphylla is the National flower of Lesotho, apart from the most beautiful aloe it is a lovely garden plant especially on rock gardens. The use of the plant medicinal (Muthi) by Basotho is uncertain, although some people suggest a use for skin complaints. Some laboratories investigations indicate potential medicinal properties with further chemical analysis.

The species is extremely difficult to grow in cultivation. Plants which have been removed from their habitat usually do not survive for more than a few years.

Bongani with a cluster of Spiral Aloes

Bongani with a cluster of Spiral Aloes

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  • Reply Bertrand JARRIGE August 16, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Good evening,

    We are four europeans (French and Dutch) has us interested in aloe.
    We make a trip to South Africa from October 18 to November 5.
    We would see aloes in Kwazulu Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga and of course Aloe polyphylla Lesotho.
    About Polyphilla we would know if it is possible to have a guide to conduct us to the scene and the price for the service.
    We are also looking for an accommodation visit.
    Thank you for the information you give me.

    • Reply Jasmine Arndt August 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Good Day,

      We would certainly be able to arrange for you to see the Polyphilla aloes at our lodge and in the local area. Please confirm rates for a guide and accommodation with our reservations manager on reservations@maliba-lodge.com

      Kind regards,

      Maliba Lodge

  • Reply Yang Zheng September 9, 2014 at 5:23 am

    I like to buy 10000 Aloe Polyphylla Seeds.If there are seeds for sale can contact me.

  • Reply Libby Hamman May 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I may be able to put people in contact with people who can show them examples of the aloes and provide transport and or accommodation.

  • Reply Katse Dam Wall Tours - The Blanket Wrap January 20, 2017 at 5:46 am

    […] the indigenous flora that was displaced in the construction of the dam, especially orchids and the Spiral Aloe, Lesotho’s national […]

  • Reply Le Corbusier May 30, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Hae Ntate, u ka botsa u sa tsoa botsa

  • Reply elize October 29, 2017 at 8:26 am

    i bought a spiral alie and was told that the spiral only begins when it is older there is no spiral at the moment

  • Reply Jenny Bellamy July 3, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    I bought “spiral polyphylla” seeds last year from a self proclaimed expert and GROWER! Of course I was duped at £5.00 per seed I bought 5! They were common garden seeds which grew into WEEDS! Be warned. I did not know thespiral polyphylla were endangered but would still dearly love to own one however large it might grow. Sadly it’s not going to happen……is it?

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