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. Some species bloom nearly every month, but the 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. Most tolerate salt spray and are good beach plants. Seldom browsed by deer.
Where winters are too cold for all-year outdoor culture, grow aloes in pots and shelter from frosts. Most kinds make outstanding container plants. Highly valued as ornamentals, in the ground or in pots. The aloes listed here are only a few of the many kinds. Sizes given apply to plants grown outdoors in the ground.
A. arborescens. TORCH ALOE. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Grows about 10 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide, though older clumps may reach 18 ft. Branching stems carry big clumps of gray-green, spiny-edged leaves. Winter flowers in long, spiky clusters, bright vermilion to clear yellow. Withstands salt spray. Tolerates shade. Foliage damaged at 29F, but plants have survived 17F.
A. aristata. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Dwarf for pots, edging, and ground covers; just 812 in. tall and about as wide. Rosettes are packed with 4-in.-long, -in.-wide leaves ending in whiplike threads. Produces orange-red flowers in 1- to 1-ft.-tall clusters, winter to spring.
A. barberae (A. bainesii). Slow-growing tree to 2030 ft. or taller, with heavy, forking trunk and branches. Rosettes of 23 ft. leaves; spikes of rose-pink flowers in winter on 1- to 2-ft. stalks. Used for stately, sculptural pattern in landscape. Tender to frost.
A. 'Blue Elf'. This dwarf hybrid with 6-in. rosettes of tooth-edged, blue-green foliage eventually forms a dense mound 12 ft. high and wide. Orange flowers appear winter to spring. Tolerates light frosts.
A. brevifolia. SHORT-LEAF ALOE. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Low, spreading clumps of blunt, thick, gray-green, spiny-edged leaves 3 in. long. Clusters of red flowers on 20-in. stalks, intermittent all year. Tolerates light frosts.
A. ciliaris. CLIMBING ALOE. Climbing, sprawling form with pencil-thick stems to 10 ft. long. Small, thick, soft green leaves. Long-stalked, 3- to 6-in. flower clusters with 2030 green- or yellow-tipped scarlet flowers; intermittent bloom all year. Takes a bit more shade than other species listed here. Tender to frost.
A. distans. JEWELED ALOE. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Running, rooting, branching stems make clumps of 6-in., fleshy, blue-green leaves with scattered whitish spots and white teeth along edges. Forked flower stems, 12 ft. tall, carry clusters of red flowers in winter. Tolerates light frosts.
A. ferox. CAPE ALOE. Treelike aloe with a large single trunk rising 610 ft. high (after 10 years). Trunk is topped by a single crown of gray-green, spiny, red-toothed leaves 34 ft. long and 68 in. wide. Each branched inflorescence holds hundreds of bright scarlet or orange blossoms in late winter or early spring.
A. maculata (A. saponaria). SOAP ALOE. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Short-stemmed rosettes 1 ft. or more wide feature broad, white-spotted, green leaves to 8 in. long. Multibranched, 1- to 1-ft. flower stalks rise in summer, topped with tight heads of nodding blossoms in scarlet, red-orange, salmon-pink, or yellow. May grow as a solitary plant or send out suckers to form dense, expanding colonies. Dig and separate when plants become too crowded. 'Yellow Form' is dense with lemon-yellow flowers that bloom earlier. Among forms with shrimp-pink flowers, the most widely grown is old hybrid 'Commutata'.
A. marlothii. MOUNTAIN ALOE. Large, treelike aloe with a stout trunk to 12 ft. tall, topped by a single, dense foliage rosette. Leaves are green or grayish, 34 ft. long and up to 8 in. wide, often spined on both surfaces and margins. Old dried leaves persist on trunk. Winter flower clusters branch horizontally, holding many spikes in yellow, orange, or (rarely) red or bicolors.
A. x nobilis. GOLD-TOOTH ALOE. 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 in early summer. Good in pots; takes limited root space.
A. striata. CORAL ALOE. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Broad, spineless leaves to 20 in. long are gray-green with a narrow pinkish-red edge. They grow in rosettes 2 ft. wide on short trunk. Brilliant coral-pink to orange flowers in branched clusters, midwinter into spring. Handsome, tailored-looking plant.
A. striatula. HARDY ALOE. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Scrambling shrub has glossy, green leaves, each edged with a thin white margin and minute teeth; distinctly striped leaf bases surround the stem. Multiple stems form a dense mound 56 ft. tall and to 15 ft. across, but plant may be kept much more compact with occasional hard pruning. Single spikes of flowers in scarlet, orange, or yellow rise 618 in. above the foliage in summer.
A. tenuior. Dense, much-branched, climbing or scrambling shrub to 24 ft. tall. Lax stems to 10 ft. long (often horizontal) are tipped with rosettes of 6-in.-long, 1-in.-wide leaves edged with tiny white teeth. In late spring, 6- to 12-in. unbranched spikes of tiny, cylindrical yellow (sometimes red) flowers are held horizontally above the mound. Best given support of a fence or rocks or trained up a palm trunk.
A. variegata. PARTRIDGE-BREAST ALOE, TIGER ALOE. Forms a foot-high, tight rosette of fleshy, triangular, dark green, 5-in.-long leaves strikingly banded and edged with white. Loose clusters of pink to dull red flowers, intermittent all year. Best with some shade; can be grown as a houseplant.
A. vera (A. barbadensis). MEDICINAL ALOE, BARBADOS ALOE. Rosettes of narrow, fleshy, upright leaves 12 ft. long. Yellow flowers are borne in a 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. Needs a moderate amount of water to look good.