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Montecito Magazine

Spring/Summer 2017

Above – Tom Cole took this photo of

Aloe lukeana

near the summit of Mt. Morungole, in the northeast

corner of Uganda.

Right – Tom pointing out seed pods on an

Aloe thraskii

plant, a noble species that grows along the Indian

Ocean from southern coastal Mozambique down into the Eastern Cape region of South Africa.

t emerged as a whisper of color. Soft African light filtered through dewy ferns and rain-

heavy grasses to illuminate a single flower, a peep of red in the otherwise verdant folds

of Mount Morungole. To one side of the mist-shrouded Ugandan peak lay Kenya; to the other,

South Sudan. But Montecito’s Tom Cole wasn’t thinking about the countries or cultures he’d

traversed to get there. He was thinking about aloes.

An avid horticulturist and co-owner of Cold Spring Aloes, a private botanical collection

devoted to the genus, Tom was familiar with every recorded aloe species in Uganda. This

one, however, with its fire-hued flowers and dense rosette of dark green leaves balancing atop

a stout trunk, was distinct.

“I knew from the get-go, it was unlike anything in Uganda,” he says, recalling that first

glimpse of a distant flower and the urgency he felt to document this new taxon, the botanical

version of staking one’s claim and recording it for posterity.

And yet it took several years for him to complete a formal description and publish the

botanical name—

Aloe lukeana

—an homage to his late brother, Luke W. Cole, who died

in a car crash in 2009 while visiting Tom and his family at their provisional home in

Uganda. Seven years older than Tom, an attorney and pioneer of environmental

justice, Luke had been a “super mentor” to his little brother, who “always looked

up to him and learned quite a bit from him.”

Aloes in the Mist

Story by Matt Katz

Art by Heidi Bratt, Marcia Engelmann,

Chris Flannery, Gail McBride Kenny, Martha Shilliday

Tom Cole’s Humanitarian Efforts In Africa

Parallel His Passion For Plants