Meet our June Plant of the Month – the Aloe!
The succulent genus Aloe contains over 300 species, but the most widely known is Aloe vera. Commonly used for medicinal purposes, Aloe vera or “true Aloe”, is a member of the family Asphodelaceae, and has its origins in northern Africa. The specific origins are quite murky, but they are believed to have originated from the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. There is also quite a lot of variation in Aloe vera plants, which has led to the rise of the theory that Aloe vera is not a species at all – but rather a natural or ancient hybrid.
Aloe vera has been known and used since ancient times, and is well-documented in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian records. Aloe is even referenced in the Egyptian Book of the Dead as part of the skin-preservation process during mummification! Know for its skin-healing properties, Aloe gel has been used throughout time as a treatment for many types of skin aliments.
Additionally, ingesting Aloe was also used as a laxative in ancient times. Although aloe juice now exists as a beverage at most health food stores – the National Institute of Health does not recommend the consumption of raw aloe! In fact, for many beverages that contain aloe gel, the aloe extract must be processed first to remove toxic compounds (the same compounds responsible for the laxative action).
Other Aloe species do exist, and come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, variegations, and shapes! In fact – aloe species come in every color except for blue. (Blue is a rare pigment in nature, and most natural things that appear blue are actually a shade of purple.)
Aloes are closely related to Gasterias (Gasteria) and Haworthias (Haworthia), and the jury is still out with regards to species placement within the genera and ultimately, the family. Intergeneric hybridization, the ability to cross-breed with an organism in another genus, is often rare, so there is a strong argument for placing all these organisms together as one genus (and recently, as one family). However, the morphologies of each species vary too greatly to fully support that.
Aloes are distributed across Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Gasterias are native to the southern Africa, and Haworthias are native to South Africa proper. Natural hybridization occurs within these ranges, and interestingly enough, southern Africa has given rise to many new plant species. Southern Africa has a unique climate that is mostly responsible for the unique species of plants that can be found there and nowhere else in the world.
Aloe Houseplant Care 101
Bright, full sun to medium, filtered sunlight.
Once weekly or monthly – depending on the time of year and amount of light your place is receiving. For example, in full summer sun, you may need to water once weekly. In the winter, when the plant is semi-dormant, once a month should be sufficient. Make sure the soil has completely dried out in-between waterings.
Aloes will tolerate many soils, but a well-drained loamy soil (potting soil) amended with sand is best.
Temperature and Humidity
Aloes like dry environments. Regular room humidity and normal room temperature will do. Between 65-85ºF (18-30ºC) is ideal.
Feed Aloes only during the spring and summer months once every 3 weeks or month. Be sure to follow the standard application rates on the label of whatever fertilizer you choose. Do not feed in the winter.
Aloes will flower about once a year if the conditions are ideal (bright, full sun).
Aloes don’t need to be trimmed, but one can pluck the larger leaves to use the gooey insides for burns or skin ailments.
Yellowing leaves, possible black stems
If the leaves of your Aloe are starting to yellow it is usually due to overwatering, but occasionally it can be due to nutrient deficiency or pot-boundedness. If this occurs, let the soil dry out first and if it continues to show signs of distress, re-pot your Aloe.
Leaves turning brown or wrinkling, curly leaf edges
This is usually a sign of underwatering, or potassium deficiency. If this occurs, give your Aloe more water.
Bacterial leaf spot. Try to avoid splashing water on the leaves when watering.