by NGONI SHUMBA
HOWMAN’s cliff aloe, a rare cliff-dwelling aloe only known from sheer, south-facing sandstone rock cliffs in the iconic Chimanimani mountains is a local endemic.
Also known as Aloe howmanii, the shrublets were named after Roger Howman, a colonial era Native Commissioner of Nganga and Zaka who collected this plant from these cliffs during Easter in 940.
It was however only named two decades later by Gilbert Reynolds in the Kirkia botanical journal in 1961.
It is distributed from the Bundi Gorge, to the Musapa Gap in altitudes of between 1,678 and 2,380 m in very poor acidic soils that receives rainfalls of between 1,000 and 2,000 mm per year.
The soil is poor in minerals and acidic. Rainfall in the habitat is high and ranges from 1 000–2 000 mm per annum.
Although the plant endures veld fires by re-sprouting after fire damage they are often spared from very intense infernos due to their rocky habitat.
The mountains are also perfect for this aloe because it depends for its pollination on sunbirds which are abundant in this part of the world.
The good news is that it has been successfully used as a flower albeit only under conditions that closely mimic Chimanimani’s the south-facing cliffs – mineral-poor, sandy, acidic soil, in light shade.
It can be grown both, as a container plant, or in moist grassland gardens, where frost is not severe. It should preferably be grown in dry stone walls or on vertical walls where the plant can become suspended.