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The Aloe marlothii is the primary image on the Summerplace Game Reserve logo. That’s because our reserve is home to an abundance of Aloe marlothii (Mountain Aloe). We also have several large marlothii forests and, what we now know is officially the tallest Aloe in South Africa.

The giant Aloe at Summerplace Game Reserve was recently measured and is officially confirmed as the tallest Aloe marlothii in South Africa. Measuring 9.80 metres, the Giant Aloe can be distinctly seen on the ridgeline from a couple of kilometres away and is even more impressive up close.

“The marlothii growth at Summerplace really is quite something. Summerplace has a terrific population of marlothii with large concentrations in some places, such as along the southern boundary,” said Warwick Tarboton, author of multiple bird books and Wildflowers of the Waterberg. He is also a Waterberg Biosphere expert and co-edits the website,, a valuable resource for the region.

South Africa’s tallest Aloe marlothii is at Summerplace Game Reserve. Photo: Josh Baber

Tarboton assisted the South African Dendrological Society to measure the height of the Giant Aloe at Summerplace Game Reserve.

“We have long poles with a mirror to be able to examine eagle’s nests. We used those poles to measure the height of the Aloe marlothii. When I first saw the Aloe, it was flowering, so it was taller. But when we measured it in mid-May 2024, the flower head was on the ground. It’s another metre long, so when flowering (usually between May and September), it is even taller, at around 10.80 metres, which is unusually tall” explained Tarboton.

According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), ‘Aloe marlothii is a large, perennial, succulent, single-stemmed aloe, usually 2-4 m tall (occasionally up to 6 metres), with old dried leaves remaining on the stem below the upper living leaves. Leaves are large, broad and succulent, light green to greyish green to blue-green, up to 1500mm x 250mm, having a broad base tapering to a sharp point, covered with spines on upper and lower surfaces and maroon-coloured teeth with orange tips along leaf margins’.

Compared to most mature Aloe marlothii in the area, the Giant Aloe is immense. Photo: Josh Baber

Aloe Marlothii is found mainly in bushveld vegetation along mountainous areas, rocky terrain and slopes where temperatures are warmer and frost infrequent. Mountain ranges of the Drakensburg, Lebombo, Zoutpansberg and Waterberg have large populations of the species.

“The generally accepted definition of a tree is a plant with a woody stem two metres or more in height. Aloe marlothii is essentially a plant until it’s taller, then it classifies as a tree,” explained Tarboton.

In addition to the height of the enormous Aloe Marlothii, the Dendrological Society measurement includes stem girth (0.93m), stem diameter (0.30m), average crown diameter (1.50m) and crown spread (1.80m-squared). All of these combine for a size index of 6.53.

It is noted via one theory that the clustering of Aloe marlothii on the Polokwane Plateau is could be associated with African Iron Age archaeological sites of Ndebele village ruins. Ndebele occupied the area from 1650 to 1880. It is believed the seeds were brought to the Ndebele villages from plant material they used for a variety of uses such as scraping hides to prepare women’s dresses, using ash from dried leaves for an additive to snuff, eating nectar from the flowers, leaf extractions to treat roundworm and tapeworm and fresh leaf sap used on women’s breasts to wean babies.

The Ndebele left the region around 1885 and large thickets of Aloe marlothii continued to flourish in the area. Although no ruins are obvious, this may explain the unusually large marlothii forest at the southern border of Summerplace Game Reserve. It also indicates that some of the larger Aloe marlothii  trees may be in excess of 130 years old.

The protection offered by the surrounding trees and mineral-rich ground are likely reasons for the Giant Aloe’s success. Photo: Josh Baber

The Aloe marlothii Forest, which  sits at one of the lowest points of the reserve, is a key feature on the reserve. A mountain bike trail ­– fittingly name Aloe – winds its way through the forest, which is also a favourite location for wedding and special occasions photographs.

After co-authoring the book, Wildflowers of the Waterberg, Tarboton is currently working on a new book that focusses on trees of the Waterberg. He believes the reason for the unusually high Aloe marlothii on the northern ridge is two-fold.

“That side of the reserve is underlain by dolerite, and the soils from these rocks have more nutrients than the soils from sandstones which make up most of the Waterberg. Coupled with this is that this marlothii is growing on a large old termitarium (termite mound) which provides even more plant nutrients’ explained Tarboton.

“The other reason it may have been able to grow so tall is that it is surrounded by a clump of other trees, which both protect it from the elements and add nutrients into the soil,” he added.

The Giant Aloe can be seen on the Grey Mountain Bike Route, shortly after the start of the appropriately named Marlothii Trail.

The Giant Aloe at Summerplace Game Reserve is visible from a long distance away. Photo: Josh Baber

To see the Giant Aloe for yourself, book a stay at Summerplace Game Reserve. Here are the accommodation options.


“We spent two days at Summerplace and it was an unexpected surprise!” That’s what Waterberg expert, Warwick Tarboton, said following his first visit to Summerplace Game Reserve during October 2023. He and his group recorded high numbers of tree and bird species, both of which are expected to increase. Here’s what they discovered.

Tarboton is retired, but keeps busy by managing a website called Waterberg Bio-Quest, a veritable treasure in terms of information on the Waterberg Biosphere. The website  is a meticulous record of almost everything natural in the Waterberg Biosphere, including mammals, insects, birds, reptiles, trees, wildflowers and grasses. It also contains every kind of map that’s relevant to the region, including topography, geology, drainage and many more. All content on the Waterberg Bio-Quest is English but most of it has also been translated into Afrikaans.

“We have visited well over 100 properties in the Waterberg and haven’t seen anything quite like Summerplace,” said Tarboton. “Five couples with deep interests and experience in nature and conservation were in my group and we thoroughly enjoyed our first visit.

“When you drive up the Melkrivier Road, everything looks rather homogenous. But driving into the Summerplace property with its hills and valleys delivered some very interesting sightings for us,” he added.

Until mid-2021, Summerplace was a farm, but the conversion to a game reserve has seen the introduction of a range of mammals, all of which occur naturally (or used to) in the Waterberg. Among other species, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Tsessebe, Common Reedbuck, Mountain Reedbuck and Giraffe have all been added to the reserve in the past 26 months.

“I am most encouraged that Summerplace is keeping its species introductions to animals that originally occur there. The Tsessebe and Roan Antelope in particular aren’t found elsewhere in the Waterberg these days, so it was really good to see them at Summerplace,” said Tarboton.

“In our short visit we identified 94 species of trees. I would estimate that there are probably 130-140 in total. That’s a very good list! We spotted 107 different bird species, which is very good for the Waterberg this time of the year because the migrants haven’t returned yet. Combined with others who have recorded bird sightings at Summerplace, the list numbers 140 currently. That is a good score, especially for a place with limited water,” he added.

For Tarboton and his group, the sighting of a baby African Hawk Eagle was a highlight.

“I asked David Baber, who was our guide, about any raptors and he took us to a nest that has been there for years. We identified it as the nest of an African Hawk Eagle because it contained a big chick that’s almost ready to fly. Assuming they feel safe, they keep the same nest for years. This is the 28th African Hawk Eagle nest that we are aware of in the Waterberg.

As one of the authors of the book Wildflowers of the Waterberg (digital sample here), Tarboton obviously has a keen interest in this category of flora.

“We did see some wildflowers, but once the rains have begun, that’s when we’re likely to see a lot more at Summerplace. We are looking forward to returning after some rain,” said Tarboton.

The group was also impressed with the Aloe (Marlothii) at Summerplace.

“David took us to the Aloe forest and that is very unique. He also showed us the giant Aloe on the high ground. It’s very rare for an Aloe to grow that tall. We estimate it to be 12-14 metres tall, which is immense and at least double the size they normally grow,” remarked Tarboton, who will return regularly to continue recording flora, fauna and other data for his website.

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