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Aloe ferox [AL-oh, FER-oks], also known as bitter aloe, is a tall, spiky species of aloe (xanthorrhoeaceae) from the family asphodelaceae (Aloe plants).
Native to Southern Africa, aloe ferox is widely distributed from the South Western Cape to KwaZulu-Natal and eastern cape province.
The long-stemmed plant is also found in the southeast end of the Free State, southern Lesotho, and edges of the karoo.
The plant thrives best on grassy fynbos and open rocky/bushy areas, often in a vast array, where it creates a breathtaking view.
The widely-populated aloe species is known by a few common names as follows:
- Cape Aloe
- Red Aloe (also Aloe Cameronii)
- Alligator Jaw Aloe
- Aloe Candelabrum
- African Aloe
- Aloe ferox mill
Aloe Ferox Care
Size and Growth
Cape aloe is a succulent, slow-growing plant with a height up to 6’ – 9’ feet tall and breadth up to 3’ – 5’ feet wide.
It is a slender evergreen plant armed with sharp greenish-blue leaves, usually structured in a rosette.
Usually, the tips of the aloe leaves curve in a downward position. The spines at the edge of the leaves are red.
These spines are also present on the upper and lower surface of the leaves.
When young, the plant is quite spiny but as it matures, it becomes less spiky.
Over time, the plant produces fresh, new leaves with small orangey-red spines.
The old leaves remaining on the stem are known as “petticoat”.
Flowering and Fragrance
Red aloe plants produce racemes of orangey-red flowers with intense orange stamens.
The bright flowers are the most prominent feature of the succulent, after the leaves of course.
Tubular and long-lasting, the showy flowers are held in a cluster above the foliage.
The inflorescences resemble large, elegant candelabra with approximately 5 to 7 branches.
Aloe ferox evokes no scent whatsoever and is valued for its colorless leaf gel and bitter brown exudate with purgative properties.
Lighting and Temperature
As with most aloe species, this south African native prefers indirect sunlight or artificial light for healthy plant growth.
When aloe receives low light it grows nice and leggy.
The ideal temperature for the growth of red aloe is between 55° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (13° – 27° C).
The plant is intolerant to cold temperatures and does well in warm, moist weather conditions.
The USDA Hardiness Zones of bitter aloe plants is 9 to 11.
Watering and Feeding
This drought-tolerant plant is capable to survive without daily or frequent watering.
Ideally, the perennial plant prefers little or non-continuous irrigation.
The aloe plant has minimum feeding requirements.
The plant needs to be nourished during the summer months with fertilizer. Ideally, liquid fertilizing is applied 2 to 3 times per season.
Soil and Transplanting
- Aloe ferox enjoys well-drained sandy or loamy soil in full sun.
- The best time to transplant is during a dry season. Before transplanting aloe ferox, it is important to water the plant for a few days.
- Pick a pot with a drainage hole spread a layer of potting soil especially for cacti or aloe plants.
- Transfer the root ball, making sure to lift it firmly yet gently.
- Put the bitter aloe in a new pot on the top of the soil.
- Cover it well with additional soil.
- Water the plant deeply but infrequently in the first few days after transplanting.
Grooming and Maintenance
Aloe ferox is a low-maintenance plant and demands little trimming and pruning in a year.
The plant should be checked for old, dead leaves.
In the case of damaged or brown leaves, cut them at the stem using a scissor or a knife.
Avoid poor lighting, too much water, or too little water when growing an aloe ferox plant. All these three factors contribute to damaging.
How to Propagate Cape Aloe
The aloe plant often develops pups or suckers. Once these off-shoot plants develop some size they can be removed to produce more plants.
The propagation of an aloe ferox plant is also carried out through seeds.
- Sow them in well-drained soil in indirect sunlight.
- Once the seeds start to germinate, water it.
- Once they are an inch tall, transplant them into a small pot or bag.
This entire process may take up to 6 months or more.
Cape Aloe Pests and Diseases
Aloe ferox plants are susceptible to mealybugs, scale insects, and mites.
Diseases like leaf spots, bacterial infections, canker/galls, and aloe rust commonly attack the popular succulent.
Root rot can cause serious issues to plant health. To control, avoid overwatering, plant is a light fertile, well-drained soil. Clean the infected area and grow in clean soil.
Aloe Ferox Uses
The gel from the fleshy leaves is similar to aloe vera gel and is employed in beauty products.
The not-so bitter gel has many medicinal uses.
The aloe gel of these medicinal plants helps treat several skin conditions such as wounds, burns, inflammation, etc.
The gel is also applied to the scalp to promote hair growth and treat dandruff.
In addition to healing uses, the gel has edible purposes too such as being a laxative.
In South Africa, the gooey liquid is used in making jams.
It is also an active ingredient in many nutritious food and drinks.