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Grass Aloes are an appealing group of deciduous aloes. As the name implies, they grow mainly in grasslands subject to winter fires. Their leaves and colours resemble their habitat, making them difficult to find when not in flower. These largely miniature aloes have very attractive flowers, making them desirable, if difficult, plants to cultivate. Their growing pattern is closely related to the winter fire cycles of the veld, some species responding directly to burning and producing leaves, flowers and later seed after such events.
This publication is as much a book of art as it is an enlightening study of the veld of the eastern parts of South Africa. Gillian Condy's illustrations of the species are masterpieces in their own right. She spent many hours in the veld, at times under very difficult conditions, to capture the essence of each species. The book is further enhanced by the attractive and detailed line drawings of the veld by Murray Ralfe, giving a good feel for the grassland habitat. As with so many other plant species in South Africa, the grass aloes are threatened by present-day demands on the veld. The grasslands are often heavily grazed by cattle, vast tracts have been cleared for afforestation, and there are pressures from the mining industry, mainly coal-mining. The remaining, often degraded, veld is furthermore subject to the introduction of alien vegetation, all of this causing a marked decline in the numbers of naturally occurring plants, including the grass aloes.
The book is the product of two decades of travel and research by Charles Craib and provides valuable and useful information on grassland conservation in general and the flora that goes with it in particular. Cultivation of grass aloes is difficult, little information being available. However, this book comprehensively deals with propagating and growing the plants. Chapters on the habitats and growth cycles, pollination, the development and dispersal of seed, the effects of habitat destruction, the role of fire as well as chapters on the artwork itself are included. A glossary and index is also supplied.
Also covered is the monotypic genus Chortolirion, which reasonably conveniently slots in with the grass aloes.