Tuesday 21 December 2010

Distichous by any other name

As if it is not hard enough to spell and remember plant names there are also certain terms that are commonly used that add to any dyslexic's problems.  Distichous is one of those, meaning have leaves arranged in two vertical rows, off a stem.  No matter how many times I use it, it never rolls off my tongue when I have to think of it.

The topic came up when discussing my favourite aloes (or trying to at least narrow the list down).  Just in case you are wondering current list stands as:
  • Aloe striatula as the hardy aloe with a good flower
  • Aloe polyphylla, as it is almost hardy and more interesting than striatula
  • Aloe pink blush for the decorative small aloe or aloe suprafoliata for its colour
  • Aloe speciosa for probably the best flower
  • Aloe hercules for the plant I want to get hold of and representing the tree aloes.
Aloe suprafoliata
This list changes on a hourly bases but it was in respect to aloe suprafoliata that distichous came up.   This is a lovely aloe and exhibits strange behaviour in that it is distichous for the first part of its life, usually until it flowers for the first time, after which it starts to spiral. Many people prefer it in its early form and are sad when it flowers and starts to spiral. I got mine in its mature form so never saw it the distichous form, but I love the spiral and can't understand who wouldn't. The blue colour is not bad either and this one is most definitely on the A list (the lucky plants that get brought inside and displayed over winter).

Almost all aloes start life with distichous growth, which lasts for various lengths of time. Most tend to grow out of it fairly quickly, these first year aloe greatheadii seedlings were all growing more normally the following year.

Aloe greatheadii var davyana
Some like aloe suprafoliata continue until they flower.  Then you have a few which continue; aloe plicatilis being the most common in cultivation. Also called the fan aloe, as it never stops being distichous.  It does branch, which gives it a tree shape, but each stem stays with its leaves growing in two vertical rows.

Aloe plicatilis
You could probably form a nice little collection of purely distichous plants and maybe after this I'll be able to remember the term, if nothing else I'll know where to look to find it!


  1. Great term! And it would perfect for your entry in my book give-away post going up later today...except you don't live in the US! But wait, the book I'm giving away is the Kew Plant Glossary and you've got the Kew right close by. I guess that's your consolation prize.

  2. distichous. how do you pronounce it? what a cool term! thanks for the primer! i just posted some images from part of my yard. most of the succulents are common, but i still don't know their names (if you have a free minute, and feel like it, would love your help with id's.)

  3. Aloe plicatilis is my favourite, very nice plant. Do you get tri and tetrastichous too?

  4. DG: Having kew near by is a small consolation.

    JR: I will see hat I can do.

    Oxslip: Oh tetrastichous, I am now going to have to see if there are any!

  5. Wow great shots. Love the plicatlis. Wish I had one!