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

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Zone
Zones vary by species.
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Regular WaterMinimal Water
Moderate, Minimal

Aloe

Liliaceae
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. tall 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 brevifolia

This low grower forms spreading clumps of blunt, thick, blue-green, spiny-edged leaves just 3 in. long. Clusters of orange flowers on 20-in. stalks appear intermittently all year but most heavily in spring. Good for small areas. 

Aloe ferox

A single large trunk rises 6–10 ft. tall (after 10 years), topped by a single crown of gray-green, spiny, red-toothed leaves 3–4 ft. long and 6–8 in. wide. Each branched inflorescence holds hundreds of bright scarlet or orange blossoms in late fall or early winter.

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 striata

This tailored plant forms a single 2-ft.-wide rosette with broad, thick leaves to 20 in. long. Leaves are spineless, pale gray-green, often spotted and striped, with a narrow pinkish red edge. Large, branched clusters of brilliant coral pink to orange flowers appear in midwinter into spring. 

Aloe vera (photo courtesy of Laura Dunkin-Hubby)
Aloe vera (photo courtesy of Laura Dunkin-Hubby)

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Aloe vera

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

Aloe x nobilis

Dark green leaves edged with small hooked teeth grow in rosettes to 1 ft. wide and high; suckers freely, forming a spread­ing, mounded clump. Clustered orange-red flowers on 2-ft. stalks appear in early summer. Good in containers; takes limited root space.

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