Few people aren't familiar with the ubiquitous Aloe vera plant: the gel from its fleshy leaves are so widely coveted for cosmetics and medicinal uses that this succulent is cultivated on large farms in Asia, Mexico, and in parts of the United States. However, the Aloe genus is large and diverse, containing hundreds of species native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula, which feature the mild temperatures and arid climate that support the growth of these tough plants. Learn about lesser-known aloes that you can cultivate in containers, or even outdoors in frost-free zones.
Here are 14 types of the least common aloes to incorporate into your plantings.
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Aloe aristata stands out from other Aloe plants in that it is more cold tolerant than most, and also 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 10 degrees F, but one thing it won't survive is soggy winter conditions, which will cause plant demise from rot. With a mature size of about six inches, you can move your 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 conditions. You can follow this natural growth pattern by withholding water in the winter or keep it irrigated for a plump, lush plant.
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Golden Toothed Aloe
Aloe nobilis is a plant full of personality, with its abundant yellow spikes and rose-tipped leaves. The medium-sized rosettes reach about 10 inches and may produce reddish-orange bloom spikes in very bright light. Golden toothed aloe plants look handsome in a mixed dish garden with other succulent specimens.
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Tiger Tooth Aloe
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 to this aloe. Tiger tooth aloe is a compact plant, topping out at about 12 inches in height. Like most aloes, it likes warm to hot temperatures and partial to full sun. Happy plants will produce pup offsets for propagating; stressed plants will turn reddish-brown in response to lengthy droughts or cool temps. Give your tiger tooth aloe a summer vacation outdoors, and you may earn bragging rights to a blooming plant with long red flower stalks.
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If you live where temperatures never dip below 25 degrees F, you may try a planting of Aloe brevifolia as a drought-tolerant ground cover. The handsome gray leaves sometimes exhibit a tinge of orange outdoors, which looks stunning when the fall and winter orange blooms appear. The clumping plants are deer resistant, and clay tolerant as long as rainfall is scarce.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
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Aloe cameronii gets its common name of red aloe from the exquisite coppery red leaves that transform the summer garden into a vibrant sunset-hued glow. The red is enhanced by dry conditions, so don't overwater these tough aloe plants, or they will remain green. The red aloe is named in honor of Kenneth Cameron, who sent it from South Africa to the Royal Botanic Garden in 1854 for further examination.
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Aloe broomii is called snake aloe not for its foliage, but for its unique blossom shape. The flowers are covered with bracts, which lend a serpentine quality to the blooms. Snake aloe plants have a rosette of stiff leaves edged with dark thorns and appreciate the same warm and dry growing conditions of most aloes.
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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.
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Malagasy Tree Aloe
Although many aloe plants feature a rosette of leaves without stems, Aloe vaombe is a tree type of aloe that may grow up to eight feet tall. The Malagasy tree aloe is endemic to Madagascar, but with careful propagation methods, gardeners have been able to cultivate this exotic aloe 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 are attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Flowers are followed by abundant seeds, which have a high germination rate in a warm, moist growing environment.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
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Aloe polyphylla may not be the most common aloe, but it's one of the most photographed, thanks to its mesmerizing spiral shape. Some botanists theorize that organisms grow in spiral shapes in nature because it ensures the most exposure to light for the plant, and requires the least amount of energy to form the repeating pattern. The solitary rosettes may grow to two feet across but only one foot tall, making an interesting specimen for the rock garden, green roof, or poolside container garden.
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Aloe hereroensis is a chameleon, appearing silvery gray, pale green, or even pinkish depending on the light exposure and irrigation it receives. Small spines that grow on leaf edges are sharp, so use gloves when planting or weeding around this aloe. This aloe is as tough as it looks, and will bounce back from temperatures as low as 25 degrees F.
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Aloe maculata has sharp spines on each leaf that rival any cactus, but it rarely needs tending other than clipping off spent blossoms, so touching isn't necessary to enjoy this sturdy plant. Native populations in South Africa have used the sap from this aloe 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 after harvest.
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Aloe marlothii is a large specimen most suited to growing outdoors in an arid, frost-free climate. Over time, the plants form a trunk-like stem surrounded by old leaves (similar to the growth pattern of some palms) and may reach eight to 10 feet tall. The spiny leaves are quite imposing, and a mature specimen in flower in the winter is a focal point in the landscape.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
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Van Balen's Aloe
The more sun Aloe vanbalenii receives, the more red coloration this fantastic 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 in the landscape or conservatory, where it will get two feet tall and four feet wide.
Lace Aloe (Aristaloe Aristata). National Gardening Association
Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna). National Gardening Association
Short Leaved Aloe (Aloe Brevifolia). National Gardening Association
Aloe (Aloe Cameronii). National Gardening Association
Snake Aloe (Aloe broomii var. broomii), National Gardening Association
Sunset Aloe (Aloe Dorotheae). National Gardening Association
Malagasy Tree Aloe (Aloe Vaombe). National Gardening Association
Spiral Aloe (Aloe polyphylla). National Gardening Association
Herero Aloe (Aloe hereroensis). National Gardening Association
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
Flat-Flowered Aloe (Aloe marlothii). National Gardening Association