A primer on aloes

A primer on aloes

A little background on aloes

The aloes are a genus of flowering succulents in the Liliaceae group, numbering about 400 species in all. They are native to the African continent, and also the outliers such as Madacascar. They have leaves often shaped in rosette form, in which contains pulp, water, and sugars, to help them survive in the harsh climates where they are naturally found.

Aloes range from small herb-like plants just a few inches high, to trees. Many aloes bear pretty flowers in clusters, ranging from cream to orange, or red flowers. They are in general, tolerant to drought, and grow well in dry, sunny climates. Most aloes make good plants for zen gardens, indoor gardens, rock gardens, and ornamental gardens.

There are some species that bloom every month, while some bloom only once in a while. If you keep aloes indoors, they are less likely to bloom, than if they were kept outdoors. The chief flowering months are February to September.
Some species of aloe include:

Aloe Vera

mature aloe vera
Mature aloe vera

Aloe Vera is one of the most common species of aloe; well known in many parts of the world for being an all-round healer. Perhaps you have seen aloes grown in pots in some houses; these are likely to be Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera). It is the most famous aloe of all, and was once regarded as the only “true” aloe (hence its scientific name). It’s an aloe with strong medicinal properties. Worldwide, it is used in great quantities to manufacture suntan lotions, skincare products, and medicinal concoctions. In ancient Egypt, it was revered as the “plant of immortality,” and in fact, almost all the ancient civilizations used it as a medicinal herb.

young aloe vera
Young aloe vera often have white spots or flecks on their leaves.

Leaves can grow more than 2 feet long, and it bears flowers on a 3 feet long spike. The leaves are thick fleshed, juicy, and serrated. It thrives best in desert climates (in the US, it is the Nevada region). When harvesting Aloe Vera for medicinal use, pluck only the outer leaves, because these will have the most potency. In fact, do not use juveniles; Aloe Vera only attains its potential after 3-5 years of growth.

Aloe Aristata

This is a common addition to many gardens, and you might hear of it being referred to as the Torch Plant, due to its shape and leaf formation. The Aloe Aristata is a small aloe, and is regarded as a dwarf aloe for pots and small ornamental gardens. It hails from South Africa, and grows to a foot high, with densely packed leaves with very pointed ends that have white spots on them.

aloe aristata
Aloe aristata

The flowers are borne on an inflorescence with 2-6 racemes and the flowering period is around November. Aloe Aristata reproduces via offsets (in common with many other aloes) and grows well in sandy, well drained soils.

Aloe Arborescens

aloe arborescens
Aloe arborescens

Aloe Arborescens is also called the Tree Aloe, because it can grow as high as 18 feet high. It is native to South Africa, and the surrounding countries. The leaves are dull green, serrated, and have spines. The flowering period lasts from December to February, borne on tall stalks. The red tubular flowers produce nectar, and the leaf pulp/juice also possess some medicinal properties.

Aloe Variegata

This is another favorite besides Aloe Vera. Aloe Variegata is also called the Tiger Aloe or Partridge Breast Aloe, and is native to South Africa as well. The fleshy leaves have a striking variegated pattern of green and whitish irregular bands that look like a tiger’s stripes from afar. It bears a loose cluster of cream reddish colored flowers in July through September.

aloe variegata
Aloe variegata

The leaves grow to 4-6 inches long, while the overall height can be up to a foot. Take care when watering, as it cannot tolerate too much water.

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