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South Africa is well known for its remarkable plant diversity and extraordinary plant species.  Some of the most impressive plant species are the quiver trees.  Formerly quiver trees were part of the genus Aloe, but a new genus Aloidendron was created for tree aloes. In South Africa there are three quiver tree species: the well-known quiver tree (Aloidendrondichotomum), the shrub-like maiden’s quiver tree (Aloidendron ramosissimum) and the critically endangered giant quiver tree (Aloidendron pillansii).

Quiver tree or Kokerboom

Inflorescence of a Quiver tree (photo D.P. van Rensburg).

A dichotomum is the best-known quiver tree, as this unique succulent often occurs in landscape photographs of Namaqualand. The first record of a quiver tree was in 1685 by Simon van der Stel.  He noticed that the natives use the hollowed-out branches to make quivers for their arrows, and this custom leads to the name quiver tree.  The stems of dead trees were also hollowed out and used as natural fridges, because cool air is formed as air filters through the fibres of the bark. The species name dichotomum refers to the branches that are forking and dividing in pairs. Great quantities of water are stored in the stem and branches to sustain the plants through dry periods.  This species occurs in the desert and semi-desert rocky areas of Namaqualand and Bushman land.  They are slow- growing trees and may live for several hundred years.

Maiden’squiver tree or Nooienskokerboom

The most distinctive feature of this tree is the profusely branched stem, in contrast with the other two quiver tree species that have single robust stemsMaiden’s quiver tree refers to its smaller size compared to the quiver tree and the species name ramosissimummeansmany branches. Like the giant quiver tree, the Maiden’s quiver tree is restricted to the very arid Richtersveld and southern Namibia.

Maiden’s quiver tree in the Richtersveld (photo D.P. van Rensburg).

 Giant quiver tree or Reusekokerboom

The giant quiver tree is one of the rarest aloe species in southern Africa and was classified as an endangered species on the Red List of South African plants.  The common name giant quiver tree refers to the fact that the tree is gigantic(up to 10 m in height).  It is a spectacular tree with a single stem and a few large, robust branches that support the rosettes of leaves on the ends of the stem.  The yellow inflorescences grow horizontally from below the leaf rosettes.  This magnificent tree is mostly restricted to the hot and arid Richtersveld and southern Namibia.  Winter rainfall of the areas are around 110 mm or less per annum.  Some years may pass without any rain.

Giant quiver tree in the Richtersveld (photo P.C. Zietsman).

There are probably fewer than 3000 individual trees alive in the wild.  Estimates for South African plants vary from less than 200 to 1200 individual trees.  Several factors are linked to the decline of this species, namely low recruitment, restricted distribution range, highly localised habitat, illegal collecting, habitat loss through mining, drought stress from climate change and overgrazing by livestock.

Giant quiver trees at Cornell’s kop in the Richtersveld (photo D.P. van Rensburg).

Those who have seen these species in their natural habitat will know it remains an unforgettable experience to spend time with these wonderful trees.  The quiver tree species are all spectacular, but the numbers are declining, and it is our responsibility to protect, admire and respect these beautiful trees.


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Duncan, J., Hoffman, T., Rohde, R., Powell, E. & Hendricks, H. 2005. Long-Term Population Changes in the Giant Quiver Tree, Aloe pillansii in the Richtersveld, South Africa. Plant Ecology 185: 73-84.

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