The cape speckled aloe produces its stunning flowers from June until August (2), which attract birds, particularly the southern double-collared sunbird (Nectarinia chalybea), to feed on its nectar. As it consumes the nectar, pollen is deposited on the bird, which results in the pollination of the next plant on which it feeds. In this manner, insects may also be responsible for pollination. The male and female reproductive organs (stamens and pistil) within each flower ripen at the same time, but aloe plants cleverly avoid the possibility of self-fertilisation as the stigma is able to recognize its own pollen, and only accept pollen from other plants (8). Following pollination, an abundance of small, black seeds develop that, with their tiny ‘wings’, are dispersed by the wind.
Under the hot South African summer sun, the cape speckled aloe has evolved to remain relatively cool; the rosette arrangement of the succulent leaves means that the lower leaves are shaded from the sun by the upper leaves. In addition, during the summer months the leaves fold inwards, protecting the younger and softer leaves from the heat (7).