there’s a lot to love about aloes

multi-branched inflorescence of Aloe dawae ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ January 2021

I doubt I’ll ever be able to get my arms entirely around this name-changing, shape-shifting succulent genus. Its riches of flower and leaf can make winnowing out selections for a small garden woefully dependent on serendipity — on what’s available locally, what was last seen in bloom, which aloe was last extolled in a book or article you read or botanical garden visited. Forget about approaching this genus systematically. With a genus so vast in size, habit, color, season of bloom, it’s kind of liberating to know that any choice you make will be based on whatever information you had available at the moment and will always be subject to constant reappraisal. Be warned, this is a very intoxicating group of plants from select geographic areas of the globe like South Africa and Madagascar.

winter-blooming Aloe cameronii
summer-blooming hybrid ‘Cynthia Giddy’ on the right in a mixed planting
winter-blooming Aloe ferox
Aloe camperi, May at the Huntington
mixed aloe planting at the Taft garden, March, Ojai, California
one of the many small hybrids available
in bloom here in February, Aloe conifera
in bloom here in November, Aloe scobinifolia
Aloe polyphylla, the spiral aloe, in my garden 2010
P1010046 (1)
spiral aloe, Sherman Gardens, Corona del Mar, Calif.

Probably because of my enthusiasm for agaves, some of the first aloes I grew were selected based on their leaves, like the impossible-to-make-happy spiral aloe. But when the door on the aloe kingdom gets cracked open, even a casual grower soon becomes snared and then spoiled by choice; the spotted aloes, the stemless aloes, the shrubby aloes, the tree aloes, the hybrids grown for flowers, the hybrids grown for bizarro foliar effects, the solitary types, the clumpers.

the Quiver Tree, Aloidendron dichotomum, at the Huntington
mass planting of tree aloe, Aloidendron’Hercules’ with barrel cactus, Palm Springs, Calif.
Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ at the Huntington
Aloidendron ‘Goliath’
Aloes in bloom in February in Long Beach, California
Aloe rubroviolacea, January at the Huntington
possible arborescens hybrid, January at the Huntington

Armed with a good reference book like Jeff Moore’s Aloes & Agaves In Cultivation, it’s possible to dial in preferences based on size, flower style and season of bloom, e.g., winter-blooming, non-clumping, small rosettes with multibranched flowers. The Institute For Aloe Studies is another good source of information, as is San Marcos Growers. For seeing aloes in person, in Los Angeles it’s the Huntington, the LA Arboretum, and not too far north near Santa Barbara, Aloes in Wonderland — tickets need to be purchased in advance for all three online.

Aloe erinacea at the Huntington

Mid-winter in Southern California is as good a time as any to deepen an acquaintance with this seductive genus.

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6 Responses to there’s a lot to love about aloes

  1. hb says:

    Gorgeous photos of one of my favorite genera. Cheers!

  2. Kris P says:

    I love that shot of the Long Beach garden!

  3. Denise says:

    Hey you two — I’m this close to making an appt to visit Aloes in Wonderland. Parties of six, masked and socially distanced of course. Let me know…

  4. Do it! (Aloes in Wonderland) I can just see you three wandering through that paradise.

    Alas aloes aren’t something have too much experience with since they’re mostly a no-go up here where we get cold. The one large-ish plant I do have is an Aloe marlothii purchased at San Marcos years ago when it was just a tiny thing. It never has bloomed.

  5. Hans says:

    Aloes in bloom are addicting – like a bag of potato chips. So many of the branching Aloes look like hybrids of A. arborescens so it’s nice to see varieties that look distinctly different – e.g. Aloe scobinifolia.

    If you ever find yourself with extra Aloe (or even agave) seeds I think it would be fun to trade. Maybe there is a few others willing to trade Aloe seeds as well (?)

  6. Denise says:

    @Loree, I’m going to check dates with Jeff and see what’s available…
    @Hans, so true, and those that can grow them in the ground have hard design choices to make — or just give up design concerns entirely! I’ll keep the seeds in mind and let you know when available.

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