Did you know that Aloe Vera is just one of over 400 species of succulent plants in the Aloe genus? Aloe “vera” translates into “true” Aloe, as it is the most commonly used for a whole range of different pharmaceutical and medical purposes. But the genus itself isn’t limited to Aloe Vera, but an entire array of beautiful succulents that resemble Aloe Vera.
Aloe Polyphylla a.k.a. Spiral Aloe
This is my personal favorite — next to Aloe Vera, of course. The foliage of the Aloe Polyphylla plant grows in a spiral shape, giving it its characteristic, geometric beauty. This variety of Aloe is native to South Africa, but can be cultivated virtually anywhere that Aloe will grow. Some people might still use the gel inside the leaves for skin complaints, but more often than not, this Aloe variety is cultivated for its physical beauty rather than its medicinal properties.
Aloe Aborescens a.k.a. Candelabra Aloe
Candelabra Aloe is another particularly beautiful variety of the Aloe genus. The word “aborescens” translates into “tree-like”, and the species gets its name for its tall leaves that drape over, much like a tree. Like Aloe Polyphylla, Aloe ABorescens is grown mainly for its aesthetic appeal, and not usually for its medicinal properties.
Aloe Humilis a.k.a. Hedgehog Aloe
Most people will have seen Hedgehog Aloe at some point in their lives. It also originates from South Africa like its cousin, Aloe Polyphylla. However, it doesn’t have the same spiralling foliage as Spiral Aloe. Its structure is much more like Aloe Vera, but grows small spines along its leaves. This is why it has the name “Hedgehog” Aloe.
Aloe Kahmiesensis is another aesthetic spectacle. It has a characteristic trunk with leaves coming out on either side of the trunk. The leaves of this kind of Aloe are not green like other Aloe varieties, but are shades of bright and pastel red, fading out to a pastel green. It is a sight to behold, especially against the blue Namaqualand desert skies to which the plant is endemic.
It takes a trained eye to identify Aloe Ballii because on first inspection, it actually has no resemblance to the Aloe plants most people are accustomed to looking at. This species is native to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and overall, it is an uncommon type of Aloe to come across in western countries. It looks more like a grass than a succulent, and is actually an endangered species of Aloe.
Aloe Ferox a.k.a. Cape Aloe or Bitter Aloe
This flowering variety of Aloe creates long, red flowers from the centre of the plant. It has the characteristic aloe leaves, but with the addition of bright red flowers from its centre. Interestingly, the bitter aspect of this Aloe variety can be used in the treatment of stomach and digestive issues, as well as for rheumatism and gout. It was traditionally used as a purgative.
The Aloe genus is much more than just Aloe Vera. It is a whole family of succulents, each with their own individual characteristics. Next time you’re in your local nursery or home-deco store, have a look for the many kinds of Aloe that are usually for sale!