Large, sculptural aloes with brilliant, Popsicle-like flowers make striking garden plants. Midwinter is peak aloe bloom season and an excellent time to see them in nurseries and landscapes.
Aloe ferox, or Cape Aloe, might be considered a tree because of its height at maturity--6 to 8 feet with bloom spikes that add another couple of feet---but unlike true tree aloes, it's not branching. Growth is from the center of the rosette, and old leaves dry and wither, so eventually you have a large octopus of a plant atop a columnar trunk.
Although the skirt of dry leaves hugging the trunk can be removed to make the plant more tidy, it's best to keep them on. As in the aloe's native habit of South Africa, these wraparound leaves protect the trunk from excessive heat, sun and cold. Aloe ferox does well in Southern California except in mountain and desert areas, and is hardy to the low 20s.
Aloe marlothii is similar to Aloe ferox and hybridizes readily with it, so it's often hard to tell which is which. A. marlothii blooms later (in early spring), flower stems branch horizontally, and leaves are prickled---sometimes heavily so.
Even if you lack space for big aloes, or live where it's too wet, cold or hot for them, I know you'll enjoy seeing them. These exotic, over-the-top succulents are fairly new to the horticultural scene. Surprisingly, even in Southern CA where they thrive, few people cultivate them...[Continue reading]
For sources, see my list of nurseries.
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See examples of mature Aloe ferox in the landscape and learn more about this big, beautiful succulent.
Explore a colorful, waterwise Rancho Santa Fe garden and get plenty of great designs ideas, too!