The aloe ferox plant, also known as cape aloe or bitter aloe, can be found growing wild across South Africa, and also in other parts of the world with similar climates. With its thick, spiky leaves and prickly stem, this aloe makes an unusual addition to any garden, but when you consider its amazing range of uses, it becomes almost irresistible!
Cape aloe was introduced to the Western world in 1782 by the French botanist Philibert Commerson, who received it from his friend, Charles-Marie de La Condamine. Cape aloe’s genus name Aloe comes from an Arabic word meaning bitter, because of the bitter taste of the sap in all members of this genus.
It was named ferox by Commerson, Latin for fierce, due to its very sharp leaves that can cause nasty cuts to unprotected hands.
Aloe ferox plant has been used to help aid in the health of humans, animals, and plants since before recorded history. The aloe ferox plant, which can be found growing on the eastern coasts of South Africa, has numerous healing properties that have been proven to work effectively.
You may even be able to grow your own aloe ferox plant in your home if you have the right conditions and the right care tips.
Origin and distribution
Aloe ferox is a succulent, perennial plant belonging to a very large genus and family of flowering plants (Xanthorrhoeaceae and Asphodelaceae respectively). This species occurs in sandy and rocky sites across Africa, southern Europe, Madagascar, and South America. Its distribution area is therefore very broad.
The common name Cape aloe refers to its occurrence in coastal areas such as Cape Province of South Africa where it grows in association with coastal fynbos vegetation. However, due to its invasive nature, it has also spread into natural grasslands and forests far from human settlements.
Aloe ferox is also known by several other names including bitter aloe, yellow aloe, or wild china root.
The bitter sap of Aloe ferox plant is used as a laxative and to treat skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
In South Africa, it is also used to treat cancerous tumors and tuberculosis. It has been found that an extract from Aloe ferox plant contains compounds with anti-inflammatory activity, which could be useful in treating inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
Aloe ferox plant propagation
In addition to being useful for topical use, the aloe ferox plant can be propagated by seed, stem cutting, or leaf cutting. Growing from seed requires a lot of patience as aloe ferox plants will not germinate until 2 years have passed. Propagation from seed is best done using sand or compost and placed in a warm sunny location.
Fertilizer is not necessary but may be used if desired. The cuttings should be placed in soil that has been well-drained. The cuttings should also be placed in a warm location with plenty of sunlight. It is important to keep them well-watered while they are growing.
After about 3 months you should begin to see new growth appearing on your cuttings which means they are ready for transplanting into larger pots. While it takes a long time to grow an aloe ferox plant from seed, it is worth waiting for because once established it grows very quickly.
However, if you want instant gratification then propagation through leaf cutting is probably more up your alley. You simply take a leaf off of an established plant and place it into some moist potting soil. Keep it out of direct sunlight at first but once roots appear transfer it to its permanent home where there will be lots of sun and water.
Aloe ferox plant care information
Once planted, aloe ferox plant requires very little care. It’s hardy and drought-resistant so overwatering is not a concern. Just don’t over-water it! In fact, in most cases, you shouldn’t have to water your aloe ferox plant at all if you plant it in fertile soil that isn’t completely dry.
Prefers part shade or full sun. It grows in deep shade but will not flower well. Shade from the hot afternoon sun is appreciated. Full sun can result in scorched foliage if not acclimated, so start with part sun and increase the amount of sun over a few weeks’ time.
The Cape Aloe is very hardy succulent and can be grown in any well-drained soil that’s not overly rich or compacted. The general rule of thumb is to use equal parts of potting mix, sand, and garden loam.
Before planting, run your finger over the top inch or so of a potting mix; if it clumps together then it’s too rich for aloes. If you have sandy soil, add more potting mix to even out its texture. If you have heavy clay soil, add more sand and/or loam.
You want a mixture that feels light when you pick up a handful but still holds its shape when squeezed tightly in your hand.
The best thing to do is water your aloe ferox plant when it starts to dry out. This might happen at a different time of day than you typically water your plants, but don’t worry about that, just pay attention to how much water your plant needs and when it needs it.
Note: It’s not recommended that you mix Cape Aloe with other plants if they require different watering times. You can also use rainwater or distilled water to avoid any chlorine buildup in your soil. If you notice yellowing leaves, that means your plant is getting too much or too little water.
Fertilize your aloe ferox plant with a high-nitrogen fertilizer in spring and fall. Use one that’s labeled for African violets, and dilute it to half strength. If you want to go organic, add aged manure or compost in spring; follow up with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote, which contains micronutrients as well as plenty of N-P-K. Apply about 1/2 cup per plant at each feeding.
You can also feed your plants liquid seaweed diluted at 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water every month from early spring through midsummer. This will help keep them strong during their growth spurt and prevent some common problems like leaf tip burn and spider mites.
The Cape aloe plant is grown for use in cosmetics and traditional medicines. It thrives in warm, arid climates like those found on South Africa’s Cape Peninsula. The plant has tough, spiny leaves that prevent livestock from grazing on it, but cold weather will kill it during the winter months.
During these times, when temperatures reach 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for five days straight, it is best to cover your aloe ferox plants with insulating blankets to protect them from freezing temperatures.
Cape aloes do best when grown outdoors in full sun and hot, dry climates. However, since their leaves are thin and tend to be more bitter than other aloes when exposed to higher humidity, it’s important to keep them in indirect sunlight so that they won’t develop sunburns. It’s also important not to overwater these plants, be sure they don’t sit in water.
The ideal humidity range is between 30 and 40 percent. If your home’s indoor humidity is too low, you can increase it by placing a pebble tray or humidifier near your plant. You can also mist your aloe with water every few days to keep it hydrated.
The plant is very hardy and will survive in almost any condition. It thrives on neglect, so pruning is not necessary unless you are trying to control its size. Prune by cutting back old foliage and branches with a sharp pair of pruning shears.
If your aloe ferox plant has grown too large for its pot, divide it up into several smaller plants. Dig up some of the roots from around the edge of your plant and replant them in new pots.
When to repot
Cape aloes should be repotted every two to three years because they grow so quickly. If you notice that your Cape aloe has grown too large for its pot, it’s time to consider repotting.
For best results, repot your plant in springtime, when new shoots and leaves are growing quickly. This will give your plant a chance to become established before cold weather hits and might even encourage it to flower again later in summer!
Not all aloes are suited to be kept outdoors year-round. In cold climates, aloes must go through a process called dormancy or winter rest during the winter months. In areas with cold winters, outdoor aloes will die back completely and look dead for several months of their growing season.
This is normal and expected behavior for these plants in areas that receive consistently freezing temperatures. If you live in an area where your aloes don’t experience consistent freezing temperatures, it may not be necessary to provide them with winter rest.
However, even if you live in an area where your aloes don’t experience consistent freezing temperatures, it may still be beneficial to provide them with some sort of break from sun exposure every few weeks.
Aloe ferox plant flower & fragrance
The flowers are either yellowish-brown or deep orange in color and present in inflorescences. The sweetly fragrant flowers, appear from September to October, whilst fruiting from December to March. They develop into three-lobed capsules which split open when ripe releasing clusters of black seeds.
This can be accomplished by exposing the berries to a sharp tap from a hard object such as a hammer on a hard surface, thus splitting them open so that seeds are shed. This process is called scarification.
Growing aloe ferox plant is not difficult, but it does require some effort. This plant will grow about 6 inches every year and can reach up to 8 feet tall. Because of its aggressive growth rate, it is best suited for warmer climates where it can receive plenty of sunlight and water.
Those in cooler regions will want to look for a dwarf variety so as not to be overwhelmed by an excessive amount of growth. Care should be taken during planting because aloe ferox plant has thorns that can cause discomfort on contact.
There are few reported cases of toxicity from Cape aloe, but it is still wise to take a moderate approach when adding it to your diet. Many store-bought juice products use bitter aloe as an ingredient and they tend to include a high amount of sugar and/or artificial ingredients; these should be avoided. It’s best to consume only whole food sources of bitter aloe and in modest quantities.
USDA hardiness zones
Aloe ferox plant thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 11. This makes it a great option for people who live in areas with mild winters and warm summers. In cooler climates, it can be grown as an annual or a houseplant.
It is important to note that aloe ferox plant does not do well if temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pests and diseases
Though aloe ferox plants generally aren’t bothered by pests, there are some that tend to take up residence in their thick leaves. Watch out for whitefly, mealybug, and spider mites, all of which can quickly overtake a plant and cause significant damage if left untreated. Treat with insecticidal soap or neem oil, the thin leaves make it easy to find insects on your plant so you’ll know where to spray!
Additionally, watch out for fungal diseases like leaf spots and rust. For leaf spots, remove affected leaves immediately and keep air circulating around your plant to prevent further spread; fungicides will also help keep rust at bay. If either disease spreads too far before you notice it, it could do serious damage to your aloe ferox plant’s health!
Cape aloe’s impressive health benefits make it an important plant for people to grow in their homes. Not only does it have a history of medicinal use, but it can also add color and texture to your house or garden. If you need help starting your cape aloe plant, remember that these simple tips can guide you along your way.