Tiger aloe (Gonialoe variegata) is an evergreen succulent plant native to South Africa and Namibia that is a very popular indoor houseplant thanks to its easy-going-nature and tolerance for partial shade conditions. It also thrives nicely as a potted outdoor plant for decks or patios, provided it is brought indoors when the weather begins to turn cold. With its thick, blade-shaped variegated leaves emerging directly from the soil, it makes a dramatic statement in a container. This succulent doesn't have stems but consists instead of rough-edged pointed leaves arising from a rosette-like base. Showy orange to pink flowers, droopy and bell-shaped, arise in summer on fleshy racemes (bloom stalks) that grow up to 24 inches tall. Tiger aloe is generally purchased as a potted nursery plant; seed-started plants are slow-growing and can take three to seven years to reach maturity.
Tiger aloe (Gonialoe variegata) does not make official lists of dangerous plants, but it is sometimes thought to be toxic to pets because it is lumped into the same category as other aloes, such as aloe vera. The plants belong to different genera, however. Aloe vera is considered toxic to pets; tiger aloe is not.
|Common Name||Tiger aloe, partridge-breasted aloe|
|Botanical Name||Gonialoe variegata (formerly Aloe variegata)|
|Plant Type||Succulent, perennial|
|Mature Size||18—24 in. tall, 8–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Well drained, sandy loam; cactus/succulent potting mix|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic (5.5—6.5)|
|Bloom Time||July to September|
|Flower Color||Orange, salmon, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Southern Africa (Nambia)|
Tiger Aloe Care
Growing a tiger aloe is similar to growing any other succulent. They prefer warm, dry weather if planted outdoors, but can also be grown as indoor houseplants. These easy-care succulents need very little attention as long as their basic temperature requirements stay consistent. This plant blooms in summer in its native areas, but indoors you may find its bloom season begins in winter and lasts through spring.
There are almost no serious pest or disease issues with tiger aloe. The flowers are attractive to pollinators, ants, and some beetles, but insects do not harm the plants. Excess water or dense soil, however, can cause root rot.
One reason tiger aloe is a popular houseplant is that it tolerates shady conditions better than many other succulents. It is quite happy in partial shade, though full sun may lend your plant some reddish-brown coloring, adding to its vibrant beauty. If the plant turns brownish-red too quickly, give it some water as this can also be a sign of drought.
In its native habitat, tiger aloe plants flourish in rocky outcroppings. So they're not fussy at all about soil, except for requiring excellent drainage. A sandy, semi-dry loam mixture, such as that provided by commercial succulent/cactus potting mix, is perfect. Placing pebbles in the base of the container is a good method for ensuring drainage.
As with other succulents, which store moisture inside their fleshy leaves, the tiger aloe needs water only infrequently, when the soil becomes entirely dry to the touch. At that point, water deeply until the excess drains through the bottom of the pot. Too-frequent watering is the single worst thing you can do for these plants.
Temperature and Humidity
The tiger aloe plant has a serious dislike for temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Consistent temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees are ideal.
If you have your tiger aloe indoors, keep it away from your humidifier, kitchen, or bathroom, and don't put it near other plant arrangements that have trays of water for added humidity. This plant has a natural affinity for arid conditions.
Tiger aloe can thrive on just a single feeding with a diluted water-soluble balanced fertilizer in the spring. Don't feed in the fall or winter, as the plants have a natural tendency to be somewhat dormant during this time.
Types of Tiger Aloe
Other than the species plant, Gonialoe variegata, there is one notable hybrid commonly grown as a houseplant, Gonialoe x Gasterole 'Green Ice'. This plant was developed by crossing G. variegata with Gasteria 'Little Warty'. It is a larger plant with thicker leaves that are rimmed in white.
As your tiger aloe goes through the growing season, it may shed leaves or the leaves may shrivel and dry. Remove these by simply gently cutting them off. You should also remove any leaves that become damaged.
Propagating Tiger Aloe
Like many succulents, this one produces many offshoots (or "babies") which can be easily separated from the parent plant:
- Using your fingers or a small spoon, gently pull off an offshoot from the mother plant.
- Immediately plant the offshoot in its own pot filled with cactus/succulent mix. Water lightly; the offshoot will quickly root and begin producing new leaves.
Be patient as your young plant grows to maturity. It's not uncommon for an offset to require several years before it grows large enough to flower.
How to Grow Tiger Aloe From Seed
Propagation from seeds is not a very common activity, since tiger aloe plants grown this way can take as much as seven years to reach flowering maturity. If you want to experiment with this method, simply collect the seed pods as they begin to dry out, crack them open, and gather the small black seeds inside.
Sow the seeds on the surface of pots filled with succulent/cactus potting mix, then just barely cover the seeds with additional potting mix. Lightly moisten the potting mix and place the pot in a plastic bag to hold in moisture. Set the pot in a warm location with bright indirect light. Within a few weeks, the seeds should germinate and begin to sprout. At this point, remove the plastic and continue to grow the seedlings for at least six months, at which point they will probably be sturdy enough to transplant to permanent containers.
Potting and Repotting Tiger Aloe
Like most succulents, tiger aloe will do best planted in a well-draining pot filled with coarse potting medium, such as commercial succulent/cactus mix. An unglazed clay pot is ideal, as it will wick moisture and improve drainage. Tiger aloes generally need to be repotted every three years or so.
In the summertime, cold zone gardeners can bring this plant outside and give it a place of pride in the garden, but it should be brought indoors when temperatures go below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 24 hours. But for best flowering, tiger aloes need to spend a few weeks during the winter at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Get Tiger Aloe to Bloom
If a tiger aloe fails to bloom, it's often because the plant is simply not old enough. A small potted plant purchased from a garden center might require several years before it achieves the size needed to bloom.
These plants also like to have a few weeks spent at temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This period of partial winter dormancy will often stimulate blooms.
Tiger aloe is not a heavy feeder, but a mature plant that fails to bloom might respond well to a spring feeding if this has not been part of your routine. Do not, however, overfeed these plants—it won't prompt more blooms.
Common Problems With Tiger Aloe
There are only a few common complaints with tiger aloe:
Leaves Dry Out and Shrivel
It's natural for tiger aloe to lose some leaves as it produces new growth. Simply tug these dead old leaves free as they appear, making way for new growth to appear.
Plant Sags and Collapses
Novices often mistake sagging for a sign that a plant needs more water, but with tiger aloe, this is usually a sign of root rot created by too much watering. Allow the plant's soil to dry out entirely before you water again. Root rot that is too far advanced is not curable. If your plant appears beyond redemption, you may be able to pick off some of the offshoots and replant them in new pots with fresh potting mix.
Yellowing leaves are often an early sign of root rot beginning to develop.
Leaves Are Bending
Tiger aloe does well in partial shade conditions, but plants that get too little sunlight may bend their leaves in an effort to find light. If you see this symptom, look for a slightly sunnier spot for your plant.
Does tiger aloe have medicinal uses?
As with other aloe plants, the sap contained within the leaves of the tiger aloe has healing properties. It's especially helpful for sunburn and minor skin abrasions. Just cut a leaf from the plant, break it open, and apply the sap to the affected area. Be aware, though, that some individuals are sensitive to the oils in tiger aloe.
Although some dietary supplements make use of aloe plants, it's best to avoid any ingestion of tiger aloe. Even plants that are not officially regarded as toxic can sometimes cause stomach upset if eaten.
How Long Does Tiger Aloe Live?
As is true of many slow-growing succulents, tiger aloe is a very long-lived plant. Many specimens survive and thrive for decades with minimal care.
How can I use this plant in the landscape?
Most people grow tiger aloe as a potted plant—either as a houseplant or as a patio container plant that moves indoors in cold seasons. Gardeners in warm, arid regions can also use tiger aloe in the landscape, where it is especially good in rock gardens. As a potted plant, tiger aloe works well as an individual specimen, or as the centerpiece of mixed succulent plantings.
What is the difference between aloe vera and tiger aloe?
These plants share "aloe" as a common name because tiger aloe was once categorized in the Aloe genus of the Asphodelaceae family of plants. The various aloes are all characterized by thick fleshy leaves that emerge directly from the plant crown without stems. However, tiger aloe was recategorized in the new Gonialoe genus along with two other former Aloe species when genetic studies showed significant differences. Visually, however, tiger aloe remains a close relative of aloe vera.