How to Grow and Care for Spiral Aloe (Aloe Polyphylla)

This striking succulent almost looks too good to be true.

Overhead shot of a spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) and its striking spiral growth.

Razzeld / Getty Images

The spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) is a mesmerizing evergreen succulent in the Aloe genus that is native to South Africa. Its unique spiraling growth habit has made this succulent popular and highly sought after. Thick green leaves with pointed, purplish-brown tips form a compact, symmetrical spiral that can grow clockwise or counterclockwise. Each turn of the spiral has between 15 and 30 leaves, and this aloe can grow up to 24 inches wide!

This striking succulent makes a great addition to rock gardens, succulent gardens, or containers, and also grows well indoors as a houseplant. Unfortunately, its high demand and specific growing requirements have made the spiral aloe difficult to find and expensive to acquire, but if you manage to get your hands on one its striking appearance will make the effort well worth it.

Good to Know

Aloe polyphylla has been designated as an endangered species and it is illegal to remove plants or seeds from their native habitat, or purchase plants or seeds that have been illegally removed. Always ensure that you are sourcing your plant from a reputable and licensed retailer.

 Botanical Name Aloe polyphylla
Common Name   Spiral aloe
Plant Type   Succulent
Mature Size   12 in. tall, 24 in. wide
Sun Exposure   Full, partial
Soil Type   Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH   Acidic
Bloom Time   Spring, summer
Flower Color   Pink, orange
Hardiness Zones   7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Native Area   Africa
Toxicity   Toxic to dogs, toxic to cats
Close up shot of a spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) flower about to bloom.

tg50 / Getty Images

Spiral Aloe Care

Unlike its relative the Aloe vera, the spiral aloe is not an easy succulent to grow and keep alive outside of its native habitat. It is sensitive to a variety of environmental factors including temperature, humidity, and watering which all need to be just right in order for the spiral aloe to thrive.

Although the spiral growth habit is one of the most notorious aspects of the spiral aloe, juvenile plants do not begin to spiral until they are at least 8 inches wide. Mature plants are also more likely to produce blooms than young spiral aloes are. Watch out for their beautiful salmon-pink flowers that sprout from a long branching spike.

Light

This succulent does not require as much light as most succulents do. When grown outdoors, the spiral aloe should be planted in a location that receives full to partial sun, and is protected from the harsh afternoon sun. Six hours of morning or evening sunlight is perfect for the spiral aloe.

When grown indoors it can be provided with more light. Place the spiral aloe in a location that receives direct sunlight for the majority of the day. South-facing or west-facing windows are usually both great choices.

Soil

The spiral aloe requires airy, slightly acidic, and well-draining soil in order to thrive. Standard cactus and succulent soil mixes can be used, however adding some pumice or lava rock will help to increase the aeration. Alternatively, you can create your own potting mix at home by mixing together 2 parts pumice or lava rock, 2 parts potting soil, and 1 part horticultural sand. 

Water

Like most succulents, the spiral aloe is extremely drought tolerant and does not require a lot of water. In fact, overwatering and root rot are some of the most common reasons that gardeners and houseplant enthusiasts struggle to keep this succulent alive. 

Ensure that the soil has dried out thoroughly between watering, and cut back on watering in the fall and winter months. If you live in a region that experiences frequent rainfall and you are hoping to grow the spiral aloe outdoors, growing it in a container that can be moved indoors and protected from the rain is probably a good idea. 

Temperature and Humidity

The spiral aloe is not cold-hardy, but also does not tolerate extreme heat. Ensure that this succulent is not exposed to prolonged periods of freezing temperatures, and protect it from temperatures higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or 27 degrees Celsius).

At the same time, the spiral aloe should be protected from excessive winds and humidity. Mild, dry temperatures are best. For most growers, growing the spiral aloe indoors as a houseplant, or in containers outdoors is the easiest way to keep this picky succulent alive and thriving. 

Fertilizer

Regular fertilizing is not required for the spiral aloe as it is accustomed to growing in sandy, poor-quality soil. If desired, an annual application of a cactus or succulent fertilizer in the early spring can be beneficial to help boost growth during the active growing period.

Spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) shot from above.

PatrikStedrak / Getty Images

Propagating Spiral Aloe

Like most plants in the Aloe genus, the spiral aloe is most readily propagated through offsets. Propagation through leaves and seeds is extremely difficult and unreliable, and generally not feasible for most growers. A happy, mature spiral aloe will grow offsets which can be separated from the mother plant and repotted in their own containers. Wait until the offsets are at least a couple of inches wide before separating and repotting them to ensure they will be able to survive on their own. 

Potting and Repotting Spiral Aloe

The spiral aloe is slow-growing and will only need to be repotted every 2-3 years. Ensure that you choose a potting container with a drainage hole to avoid drowning the plant. Terracotta or clay planters are excellent choices for the spiral aloe since they help absorb excess moisture in the soil. 

To repot a spiral aloe, turn the pot sideways or upside down to gently wiggle the pot from the roots. Remove as much of the old soil from the roots as you can, being careful not to break the roots, and then move it to its new potting container. Add fresh soil around the roots and firmly pat it into place.

Common Pests/Diseases

The spiral aloe is generally pest and disease-free, although it can occasionally be bothered by sap-sucking pests such as mealybugs and scale. Ensure that you are regularly checking the plant to catch any pests early. Mealybugs and scale in particular like to hide in crevices of the plant and on the backs of the leaves. Rubbing alcohol can be used to remove pests from the plant and manage infestations.