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Cacti and succulents, Perennials, Shrubs, Trees

Primarily South African natives, the aloes range from 6-in. miniatures to trees; all form clumps of fleshy, pointed leaves and bear branched or unbranched clusters of orange, yellow, cream, or red flowers. Different species bloom every month; biggest show comes from midwinter through summer. Leaves may be green or gray green, often strikingly banded or streaked with contrasting colors.

Showy and easy to grow in well-drained soil in reasonably frost-free areas; need little water but can take more. Except as noted, give full sun in cooler climates, light shade in hotter regions. Where winters are too cold for all-year outdoor culture, grow in pots and shelter from frosts. Most kinds make outstanding container plants. Highly valued as ornamentals, in the ground or in pots.

Aloe arborescens (photo courtesy of Kimberley Navabpour)
Aloe arborescens (photo courtesy of Kimberley Navabpour)

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Aloe arborescens

Forms a large, rounded shrub, to 10 ft. high and wide. Branching stems carry big clumps of gray-green, spiny-edged leaves. Vermillion (occasionally yellow) winter flowers are held above foliage in spiky clusters. Withstands salt spray. Tolerates shade. Foliage damaged at 27°F/–3°C, but plants have survived 17°F/–8°C. There is also a variegated form.

Aloe polyphylla

This unusual plant forms a single, stemless rosette 1 ft. tall and 1–2 ft. wide, with overlapping rows of leaves that all spiral in the same direction to produce a pinwheel-like or “spinning” effect when viewed from above. Mature plants generate a branching, 2-ft.-tall stalk of nodding light red to salmon-pink blossoms in late spring (may fail to bloom some years). Prefers moist, slightly acidic soil and needs partial shade in hot areas. Withhold fertilizer in summer. Hardy to 10°F (–12°C).

Aloe vera

Clustering rosettes of narrow, fleshy, stiffly upright leaves 1–2 ft. long. Yellow flowers in dense spike atop 3-ft. stalk, spring and summer. Favorite folk medicine plant used to treat burns, bites, inflammation, and a host of other ills. Among best aloes for Zones 12, 13. Survives without extra water but needs some to look good.

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