14 Unusual Aloe Types for Your Frost-Free Garden

aloe plant

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Most people are familiar with the ubiquitous aloe vera plant: The gel from its fleshy leaves is so widely coveted for its cosmetic and medicinal uses that this succulent is cultivated on extensive farms in Asia, Mexico, and parts of the United States. However, the Aloe genus is large and diverse, containing hundreds of aloe types native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, which feature the mild temperatures and arid climate that support the growth of these tough plants. Many of these lesser-known aloes can be cultivated in containers or even outdoors in frost-free zones.

Although appearances vary greatly from species to species, most aloes have thick, fleshy leaves arranged in a rosette pattern. Flowers are often tubular in shape and yellow, orange, pink, or red in color. They range from tiny ground-hugging species to those the size of small trees.

Here are 14 unusual aloe species to incorporate into your plantings.

Gardening Tip

When grown in a garden, aloe plants require a loose, gritty soil, such as that common in desert regions. If you have very rich soil, you may need to amend it with sand. Preferably, the soil should be neutral to slightly alkaline in pH. When grown in containers, aloes do best with a loose potting mix designed for succulents.

  • 01 of 14

    Lace Aloe (Aloe aristata)

    Lace aloe

    mpalis / Getty Images

    Aloe aristata stands apart from other types of aloe because it's more cold tolerant and needs more shade than most. Lace aloe plants resemble Haworthia plants with their white whiskers and bumpy leaf tubercles. The lace aloe may bounce back from temperatures as low as 19 degrees, but one thing it won't survive is soggy conditions, which will cause the plant's demise from rot. Because it's small, you can move the container plant around to keep it from getting sunburned or frozen. In the wild, lace aloe plants form a globe shape with darkened leaves in response to winter drought. Follow this natural growth pattern by withholding water in the winter, or keep it irrigated for a plump, lush plant.

    • Native Area: South Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7–10
    • Height: 6–9 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 02 of 14

    Golden Toothed Aloe (Aloe nobilis)

    Golden toothed aloe

    hanohiki / Getty Images

    Aloe nobilis is full of personality, with its abundant yellow spikes and rose-tipped leaves. The medium-sized rosettes may produce reddish-orange bloom spikes in very bright light. Golden toothed aloe looks handsome in a mixed dish garden with other succulent specimens.

    • Native Area: South Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 6–12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 03 of 14

    Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe juvenna)

    Tiger tooth aloe

    Sharaf Maksumov / Getty Images

    Aloe juvenna is more bark than bite: Yes, its leaves have toothy protrusions that give the plant its name, but the spikes are soft and flexible and lend more charm than defense. Like most aloe types, it likes warm to hot conditions. Happy plants produce pup offsets for propagating; the plant turn reddish-brown in response to full sun. Give your tiger tooth aloe a summer vacation outdoors, and you may earn bragging rights when it blooms with long, red flower stalks.

    • Native Area: East Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 9–12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 14

    Short-Leaf Aloe (Aloe brevifolia)

    Short-leaf aloe

    Lazing Bee / Getty Images

    If you live where temperatures never dip below 25 degrees, try Aloe brevifolia as a drought-tolerant ground cover that reaches only 4 inches tall. The handsome gray leaves sometimes exhibit a tinge of orange outdoors, which looks stunning when its orange blooms appear in fall and winter. The clumping plants are deer resistant and tolerant of poor clay soil, as long as rainfall is minimal.

    • Native Area: Southwest Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–11
    • Height: 6 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    Continue to 5 of 14 below.
  • 05 of 14

    Red Aloe (Aloe cameronii)

    Red aloe

    Ton Rulkens / Getty Images 

    Aloe cameronii gets its common name, red aloe, from the exquisite coppery-red leaves that lend a vibrant sunset-hued glow to any garden. The red is enhanced by dry conditions, so don't overwater these tough plants, or they'll remain green. This type of aloe is named in honor of Kenneth Cameron, who sent it from South Africa to the Royal Botanic Gardens in England for further examination in 1854.

    • Native Area: Southeastern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 1–2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun (tolerates light shade)
  • 06 of 14

    Snake Aloe (Aloe broomii)

    Snake aloe

    Shihina / Getty Images 

    Aloe broomii is called snake aloe not for its toothy foliage but for its unique blossom shape. The flowers are covered with long bracts (leaves) that lend a serpentine quality. The plants have a rosette of stiff leaves edged with dark thorns, and they appreciate the same warm and dry growing conditions as most aloe types. This plant is sometimes known as mountain aloe because of its fondness for rocky slopes.

    • Native Area: South Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 1–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 07 of 14

    Sunset Aloe (Aloe dorotheae)

    Sunset aloe

    teenoo / Getty Images

    Be sure to plant Aloe dorotheae in full sun to coax the best orange and salmon colors from this vibrant cultivar. Place this low-growing aloe at the front of your border in the rock garden, or grow in a container, where it will achieve a maximum height of about 12 inches. Winter flower spikes may appear, featuring orange blooms with pale green tips. This is an endangered plant species in its native South Africa.

    • Native Area: Tanzania
    • USDA Growing Zones: 10–11
    • Height: 6–12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 08 of 14

    Malagasy Tree Aloe (Aloe vaombe)

    Malagasy tree aloe

    Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

    Although many aloe types feature a rosette of leaves without stems, Aloe vaombe takes the form of a tree. The Malagasy tree aloe is native to Madagascar, but, with careful propagation methods, gardeners have been able to cultivate it in places like Arizona or north coastal New Zealand, where temperatures stay above freezing. As plants reach maturity, they produce early spring stalks of red flower clusters that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Flowers are followed by abundant seeds, which have a high germination rate in warm, moist growing environments.

    • Native Area: Southern Madagascar
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 8–12 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    Continue to 9 of 14 below.
  • 09 of 14

    Spiral Aloe (Aloe polyphylla)

    Spiral aloe

    COffe72 / Getty Images

    Aloe polyphylla may not be the most common type of aloe, but it's one of the most photographed, thanks to its mesmerizing spiral shape. Some botanists theorize that organisms grow in spiral shapes because it ensures the most exposure to light and requires the least amount of energy to form the repeating pattern. The solitary rosettes may grow to 2 feet across but only 1 foot tall, making an interesting specimen for a rock garden, green roof, or poolside container garden.

    • Native Area: Southern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–12
    • Height: 9–12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 10 of 14

    Sand Aloe (Aloe hereroensis)

    Sand aloe

    shihina / Getty Images

    Aloe hereroensis is a chameleon, appearing silvery gray, pale green, or even pinkish, depending on the light exposure and irrigation it receives. The small spines that grow on leaf edges are sharp, so use gloves when planting or weeding around this aloe. It's as tough as it looks and will bounce back from temperatures as low as 25 degrees.

    • Native Area: Central and southern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 1–2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 11 of 14

    Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)

    Soap aloe

    ffaber53 / Getty Images

    Aloe maculata has sharp spines on each leaf that rival any cactus, but it rarely needs tending other than clipping off spent blossoms. So hands-on maintenance isn't necessary to grow this sturdy plant. Natives in South Africa have used the sap from this aloe type as a soap, but harvesting leaves from your specimen isn't advised, as the plants are very slow-growing and may not recover their symmetry afterward.

    • Native Area: Southern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8–12
    • Height: 1–2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 12 of 14

    Mountain Aloe (Aloe marlothii)

    Mountain aloe

    Mantonature / Getty Images

    Aloe marlothii is a large plant best suited to growing outdoors in an arid, frost-free climate. Over time, the aloe forms a trunk-like stem surrounded by old leaves (similar to the growth pattern of some palms). The spiny leaves are quite imposing, and a mature specimen in flower with red and yellow blooms during the winter makes for quite an eye-catching sight.

    • Native Area: Southern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–12
    • Height: 8–12 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    Continue to 13 of 14 below.
  • 13 of 14

    Tree Aloe (Aloe barberae)

    Tree aloe

    bpperry / Getty Images

    Aloe barberae is the perfect tree to grow poolside in frost-free climates because it's nearly mess free. At a mature height of 30 feet, with leafy rosettes erupting with rose-pink flowers in the winter, this aloe is a stunning addition to the succulent garden.

    • Native Area: Southern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 20–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 14 of 14

    Van Balen's Aloe (Aloe vanbalenii)

    Van Balen's aloe

    JillianCain / Getty Images

    The more sun Aloe vanbalenii receives, the more fantastic red coloration this specimen will reveal. Leaves may curve to the point of resembling tentacles. A unique feature of Van Balen's aloe is the spicy smell the leaves emit when you crush them. Grow this large aloe type among landscaping or in a conservatory.

    • Native Area: Southern Africa
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9–11
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Article Sources
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  1. Lace Aloe (Aristaloe aristata). National Gardening Association

  2. Short Leaved Aloe (Aloe brevifolia). National Gardening Association

  3. Snake Aloe (Aloe broomii var. 'broomii'), National Gardening Association

  4. Sunset Aloe (Aloe dorotheae). National Gardening Association

  5. Malagasy Tree Aloe (Aloe vaombe). National Gardening Association

  6. Spiral Aloe (Aloe polyphylla). National Gardening Association

  7. Herero Aloe (Aloe hereroensis). National Gardening Association

  8. Klopper, Ronell R., et al. A Synoptic Review of the Aloes (Asphodelaceae, Alooideae) of KwaZulu-Natal, an Ecologically Diverse Province in Eastern South Africa. PhytoKeys, vol. 142, 2020, pp. 1–88., doi:10.3897/phytokeys.142.48365

  9. Mountain Aloe (Aloe marlothii). National Gardening Association