Plant Common Name
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The genus Aloe contains around 300 species of succulent plants grown for both their exquisite flowers and fleshy foliage. They are primarily native to southern Africa and the island of Madagascar but also exist in the Cape Verde Islands and the Arabian Peninsula. All of these regions are arid tropical zones, so aloes are adapted to dry, frost-free areas.
These plants typically develop a rosette of linear, triangular or sword shaped leaves with short, sharp thorns along the leaf edges and tips. Some develop very large, woody trunk-like bases and look very much like trees while others simply spread along the ground, rooting as they go. Most aloes consist of a central rosette around which offsets are formed that may set their own roots. Severing and replanting offsets is the primary means of propagation which is easy for novice gardeners. Leaves range in color from dark green to blue-green and often feature exotic spots and stripes. Some aloes take on potent red or orange hues when stressed by drought.
Aloes are spectacular bloomers, flowering once each year, usually in spring. Some produce single spikes and others multiple, with a few able to bloom off and on throughout the year. Flower spikes may be tall with a single cone-shaped head of blossoms. Spikes may also branch at the top to produce multiple heads. The individual flowers are typically coral red, sometimes orange or pink, and narrowly tubular or short and bell-shaped. They have slightly diluted nectar suited to many bird species, including hummingbirds. The fruits are fleshy seed pods filled with large black seeds.
The most well known species is Aloe vera, the medicine aloe which is widely grown as a garden or house plant and used to treat burns and other skin ailments. Of the large tree-sized species, Aloe ferox is the most common in the landscape. It is also a secondary source of medicinal gel harvested from wild plants in South Africa. Of the many small aloes popular for container gardens, Aloe brevifolia is the easiest to cultivate.
The key to growing aloes is fast draining soil on the infertile side. They take very well to container culture and actually prefer to be somewhat pot bound. Growers leave them in the same pot until the root mass or top growth is so dense water can no longer penetrate the roots. Under these conditions they bloom more heavily and take on better red tones. To encourage faster growth, mild but frequent fertilization during the growing season can be useful to older or pot bound plants. Aloe is easy to propagate by removing offsets with or without roots and planting in a granular mix.
Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Flower Petal Number