Aloe vera is certainly one of the most useful plants in our south Florida plant palette. Aloe vera is an interesting succulent plant that takes little care but provides big benefits. Every kitchen garden should have an Aloe vera plant and putting one next to your outdoor grilling spot would also be a great idea. Not only are they interesting in texture and form, they grow great in a pot and have some medicinal value. If you get a minor burn or skin abrasion, slice one of these juicy leaves open, and apply to the skin irritation. The cooling gel-like interior of the leaves can sooth a scrape or burn.
Aloe vera is a plant species of the genus aloe. It can be found growing wild in tropical climates around the world and is cultivated for agricultural and medicinal uses. This is a stemless or very short-stemmed plant which can grow to about 24 inches in height. Small offsets or 'pups' will pop up alongside the main plant and when the plant overfills the pot, these offsets can easily be separated from the main plant and repotted with ease. The leaves are thick and fleshy, green to grey-green in color. Some varieties have a variegated look with white spots on the leaves and most of the leaves will be serrated along the edges. The flowers are produced in summer on a spike up to 35 inches tall. The flowering end of the spike can be anywhere from yellow to a coral-peach color.
The species is widely found in Northern African and the Arabian Peninsula. It was introduced to China and various parts of southern Europe in the 17th century. The species is also widely naturalized in temperate and tropical regions of Australia, South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and southeastern U.S. states, most likely the result of human cultivation.
This succulent can survive with very little rainfall and does well in a rock garden. It's hardy in zones 8-11, but will not tolerate a heavy frost. This plant is relatively unaffected by insects, likes well-drained, sandy soil and part-sun to part-shade conditions. Too much direct sun can cause burn spots on the plant and too much water will result in plant rot. When planting in a pot, use a good cacti/succulent potting mix and a pot with good drainage and let the soil get dry between watering.
For a 'spiky' plant, the aloe vera is one of the best potted plants you can have on your porch or patio. It doesn't ask for much but it give back a lot in looks and comfort.
This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel's local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, Florida.