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Aloes - Lilies of the Desert

Posted on May 17 2003

When Aloes are mentioned, most think of Aloe vera. Actually, there are over three hundred species of Aloes inhabiting Arabia, Madagascar, and Africa. These plants belong to the Lily family (Liliaceae), with various morphologies ranging from the small grass Aloes that serve as excellent windowsill plants to the huge, striking tree forms of Aloe dichotoma, Aloe pillansii and Aloe bainsii. The thick, fleshy leaves of Aloes store water during the rainy season, adapting them well for the harsh, drought-stricken areas of mountains, deserts and grasslands, thus making Aloes an excellent choice for xeriphylic (dry) landscapes. Aloe Marlothii, its steel-blue 3-foot leaves studded with black teeth, creates an architectural centerpiece in the xeriscape. Aloe bainsii, a striking tree Aloe to 30’ in height, provides a statuesque form amongst ornamental grasses, desert wildflowers and succulent groundcovers. Aloe arborescens, beautiful with long blue green leaves, clusters to quickly fill areas in the garden, bursting forth with brilliant vermilion flowers in December. Aloe striata forms a beautiful rosette of broad, pale mint green leaves edged in light pink. Multiple spikes of brilliant coral flowers appear in winter. Aloe vera, a more upright, clustering rosette of long gray-green leaves, has bright spikes of bright yellow flowers in January. Other Aloes have beautiful dappled or striped patterns. Easily grown, Aloes require well-drained soil, and although they can tolerate full sun, prefer diffuse strong light in the brightest part of summer. Water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch. Aloes provide long-lasting red, salmon, yellow, pink and scarlet floral displays in the dark winter months and are amongst the favorite sources of life-sustaining nectar for the hummingbirds. Article by Renee O'Connell Originally published in Garden Compass magazine May/June 2003 Used with permission.


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