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Plant Profile: Aloe (Aloe vera)

Over thirty years ago a fellow teacher gave me an offshoot from her aloe plant. It grew and thrived, and I took it with me when I moved from my Maryland to North Carolina home. It goes outside in warm weather but comes inside when the temperatures begin to get chilly. It requires very little care and only a little bit of attention to its need for warmth. Don’t expect flowers unless you can grow it outside in the garden. The only problems I have had with it are when I let it suffer through some cold nights (40s) or over watered it. But even when it would die back from such abuse, new shoots have come forth and the plant has gone on. Over the years I have used the mucilaginous sap from the leaves (just break a leaf off the plant and use the sap) on kitchen burns and as an ointment on my childrens’ occasional sunburn with very good results. The gel contains anesthetic, antibacterial, and tissue restorative properties that reduce pain and facilitate healing. The gel is also said to be good for reducing the itch of poison ivy but I have never used it in this way. The manufacturers of body lotions and creams have cashed in on the virtues of this great plant; just check out the labels on the bottles to see what I mean. You can use the lotions and creams but they are not as effective as fresh aloe gel so why not just have a plant around? And perhaps a bit of aloe on the face at night might keep the skin fresh and young looking. Cleopatra and Josephine (of napoleon fame) thought so and used aloe in their beauty ritual but they probably combined it with a moisturizer as it can dry the skin if applied alone.

Type: Succulent perennial herb.

Bloom: Tubular, yellow to orange-red, 1-2” long flowers are borne in spike-like clusters (racemes).

Foliage: Pale to gray-green, narrow, fleshy leaves containing mucilaginous sap.

Size: 8-36” H x 12-36” W (potted plants will be on the low end).

Light: Sun to light shade.

Soil: Average, well-drained; prefers a sandy soil.

Hardiness: Zones 9-11.

Care: Allow to dry out between waterings. Rarely needs repotting but when necessary repot in late winter or spring. Harvest the oldest (outer) leaves first.

Pests and Diseases: Susceptible to mealy bugs, scale, aphids, and spider mites.

Propagation: Remove suckers or offshoots from the base of plant and plant in well- drained soil.

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