A Quiver Tree or Aloe dichotoma is a distinctive member of a group of succulent plants known as ‘Aloes’ that grows to tree-like proportions. It is perhaps one of the best known desert plants in southern Africa, and arguably the most striking floral species in its native landscape.
The quiver tree does not have real ‘wood’, instead having a much softer pulpy, fibrous tissue in the trunk and branches. Typically, the trunk tapers from a thick base towards the top, with the first branches appearing about halfway up. The crown is often densely rounded as a result of the repeatedly forked branches, hence the species name ‘dichotoma’, which means forked.
The name ‘quiver tree’ comes from the habit of the San people, or Bushmen, who use the branches of this species for making quivers to contain their poison arrows. This plant also has other uses, and the large trunks of dead trees may be hollowed out and used as a natural fridge. The fibrous tissue of the trunk has a cooling effect as air passes through it, and water, meat and vegetables are stored inside. Other reported uses include the use of the bark as building material, and the wood pulp as a source of drinking water. The young flower buds can also be eaten and are said to have a similar appearance and taste to asparagus.
The quiver tree holds tremendous ecological value within its native landscape. Bright yellow flowers are borne from June to July, when a huge variety of insects, birds and mammals are drawn to the abundant nectar. The quiver tree may reach an age of over 80 years
The quiver tree occurs only in South Africa and Namibia, where it is perhaps the best known Aloe species. In South Africa, it is distributed around the lower reaches of the Orange River, ranging from the region of Kuruman, westwards to where the river discharges into the Atlantic Ocean. In the western part of the Northern Cape Province it ranges southwards into the Namaqualand. The quiver tree is widely distributed in Namibia, ranging from the Orange River, northwards to the Etosha Pan
The quiver tree is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the Interim Red Data List of South African Plant Taxa and listed on Appendix II of CITES
The greatest threat to the quiver tree is global climate change. Weather records from across the quiver tree’s range show that average temperatures in the region have increased over past decades. Climate predictions also suggest that temperature increases will accelerate and that rainfall will decrease in the near future. As the quiver tree adapts to this change, it highlights the problems that all plants and slow-moving species face in keeping up with a rapidly changing climate
The quiver tree is protected by law in South Africa, where it is illegal to remove plants from the wild or collect seeds without a special permit. The threat posed to this species by climate change means that scientists may need to facilitate its dispersal to more suitable climates. This could be achieved by planting new trees beyond its existing range, possibly using trees from the genetically rich populations in the centre of its current range.