When someone mentions aloe, Aloe vera plants usually spring to mind.
This is a shame because many other aloe plants, such as Aloe africana (AL-oh af-ri-KAHN-uh), are much more striking visually compared to their more popular sibling.
Commonly referred to as either African aloe or Uitenhage aloe, this hardy perennial is native to South Africa and creates a wonderful evergreen tree that can be enjoyed all year long.
This member of the Asphodelaceae family is incredibly easy to care for and may even be a contender for aloe vera’s reputation of being “unkillable”.
Aloe Africana Care
Size & Growth
African aloe is a slow growing succulent plant, taking 4 to 5 years to produce its first blooms.
Outdoors, it can grow to 12 or 13’ feet tall, but will usually be a smaller 6 to 8’ feet tall when kept in containers.
It has a tree-like habit, which makes it compatible with a wide array of smaller succulents.
The leaves of this plant are thin and narrow and gray-green, bearing a greener hue when shaded but gaining a purplish or pinkish hue when in drought conditions.
They have a somewhat messy appearance with the 2’ foot long leaves spreading out and curving downwards towards the tips.
Each leaf has small, sharp reddish teeth along the margins.
The older, dried-out leaves cover this plant’s trunk below the living rosette.
While somewhat distinguishable from most other aloes, African aloe bears a close similarity to Aloe excelsa, Aloe ferox, and Aloe lineata.
The blooms are sometimes the easiest way to tell these four species apart.
Flowering and Fragrance
While the foliage is quite attractive, the real show comes when African aloe blooms.
Blooms most often occur between January and March, but it’s not unheard of for this plant to produce flowers at any point in the year.
The 2 to 3’ foot flower stalks may have anywhere from 0 to 4 branches.
Both branches and the central stalk are topped by a spire of close-packed, unscented tubular flowers.
While these blooms start as reddish-orange buds, they change color as they open until they’re a yellow-orange or even pure yellow hue.
In addition to the stunning colors, this plant’s flower shape is quite unique.
They hang downwards, then turn sharply upwards at a nearly 90° degree angle towards the tip.
Light & Temperature
African aloe prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade for part of the day.
In climates where the sun is particularly harsh, place it where it can get direct sunlight and have some light shade or dappled sunlight in the afternoon.
Moderate to high humidity will work well for this plant, although it can tolerate drier conditions.
Normal household humidity (usually 40 to 60% percent) is perfect for this aloe.
When growing in the garden, this aloe is suitable for USDA hardiness zones 9b to 12.
It’s generally frost-hardy down to 40° degrees Fahrenheit but may tolerate brief exposure to frost or temperatures as low as 25° degrees Fahrenheit.
Watering and Feeding
Before watering your Aloe remember that aloe hates soggy soil, so the soak-and-dry method is most effective for this plant both in containers and in the garden.
Use your finger to test the soil moisture and water only when the soil feels dry 2 to 3” inches down.
A balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer suitable for succulents is perfect for this plant.
Be sure to apply according to the package instructions, both in terms of dosage and frequency.
Alternatively, some organic compost applied once in the spring and summer will make your aloe very happy.
Despite this plant being evergreen and often blooming in mid to late winter, you should cut back on feeding in autumn and winter so the plant can enjoy a dormant period.
Potting Soil & Transplanting
Uitenhage aloe is well-adapted for sandy soils but can handle a wide range of poor conditions as long as the soil is well-draining.
You can use any potting mix appropriate for succulents on this plant.
However, you should add 1 part coarse sand or perlite per 2 parts soil to ensure proper drainage.
It’s a rare occasion when you’ll need to repot this plant.
Because it tolerates salt and poor soils, it’s generally not necessary to repot for the sake of changing out the soil.
However, if the plant stops growing due to becoming rootbound or has started tipping over, it’s probably time to give it a fresh pot 1 size larger, with some new soil. Always use a pot with drainage holes.
Grooming And Maintenance
This plant is self-maintaining with the possible exception of removing any unwanted offshoots or damaged leaves.
How To Propagate African Aloe
This species is easy to propagate through both offshoots (pups) from the mother plant and seeds.
There are some claims that the plant may be propagated through division, although this technique is much more difficult.
Africana Aloe Pests or Diseases
This aloe is extremely resilient and is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions.
They’re resistant to drought, salt, and wind.
While not particularly frost hardy, they can survive brief, light frosts.
The plant is also resistant to verticillium wilt.
It’s unusual for African aloe to become infested with mealybugs, scale insects, or suffer from diseases when properly watered, although aloe snout weevil can be a problem. Overwatering can lead to root rot.
African aloe is considered toxic to both humans and pets and should not be consumed.
Aloe Africana Uses
Due to its high resistance to both salt and wind, African aloe is a perfect addition to coastal gardens.
It plays well with most smaller-sized succulents.
The plant’s unique blooms make it an attractive addition to many garden themes.
When kept in containers, they become a conversation piece during bloom time.
The teeth of this aloe are sharp and can snag on clothing or break the skin, so it’s best to keep this plant away from walkways.
Bees, hummingbirds, and sunbirds are both attracted to this plant.
While the plant has some medicinal use, consuming it can lead to digestive problems.