Aloe vera plants are succulents, meaning that they have thick leaves and roots that hold in water. Their long, pointed light green leaves grow in concentric circles. Long vertical branches give rise to tubular reddish-orange flower, with several flowers growing outward horizontally from their central stem.
Aloe vera plants grow only in cultivated conditions, although relatives of aloe vera grow in the wild in Africa. The plant has been cultivated at least as early as ancient Egypt, where is was put into the tombs of the pharaohs. Aloe vera is often grown as an ornamental plant in gardens in the southwestern United States, where water conservation is a consideration .Aloe vera plants can be grown outdoors in a mild climate. Due to their succulent nature aloe vera plants do not tolerate frost or temperatures of 32 degrees or cooler. The water in their leaves and roots can freeze and destroy the plant’s cells. If it freezes where you live you can grow aloe vera in pots near a sunny window and take them outside in the summer.
To grow aloe vera plants outside you will need moderately rich, well-drained soil in a sunny location. Although aloe vera is drought-resistant, it will do best if watered during the summer when it is growing. Allow the soil to dry completely before rewatering. Aloe vera roots grow near the surface, so small, frequent waterings are better than deep watering. Aloe vera plants can be found in most nurseries, as can a wide variety of other succulents.
Esthetically aloe vera plants work well with other succulents and cacti. For variety plant aloe vera near escheveria rosettes, ice plant, jade plant or barrel cactus to make an interesting succulent garden. Sand or gravel and pretty rocks will give your garden a Southwestern theme. You can find interesting rocks at a rock show or garden center, but it is more fun to visit the desert and go rock hounding. There you can pick and choose just what you want to personalize your succulent garden.
To raise the plants indoors provide wide pots where the roots can spread horizontally. Terra cotta pots are good because they are porous, allowing excess water to escape. Terra cotta pots also usually have a hole in their bottoms where excess water can run out, and fit in well with the desert theme. Standard potting mixes are available from the same nurseries that sell the plants. Aloe vera plants will thrive near a window where they can get plenty of sunlight. If you don’t have a window with enough sun exposure, a fluorescent lamp will do. Again, water during the summer months and allow the soil to dry between waterings. Arrange several pots of different sizes near your window, and plant aloe vera in one or two, along with some other species of succulents and cacti . Plant the tallest plants into the tallest containers and place the tallest containers nearst the window and the shortest in front so that all plants can be seen. Be sure not to allow the tall plants to overshadow the shorter ones entirely. Remember, they all need some sunlight. Terra cotta pots can be painted, but do not cover the entire container with paint. Leave the majority of the surface bare so that it will stay porous. Paint small shapes or droodles of color that will contrast nicely with your brown pots. Simple paintings of the sun or clouds go well with your desert scene. Southwestern colors such as sand, light green, or peach will look nice, or pick your favorite colors according to your individual taste or room decor. Abstract shapes in bright colors are easy to paint and go well with a modern theme. If you want to be really creative try standing an old Western boot or hat alongside your succulent display.
Aloe vera plants produce plantlets, offspring that grow from the sides of the mother plant. Remove the babies from the mother with a knife and replant them into their own pots or corners of your garden.
Aloe vera gel is thought by many to have medicinal value, although the research is scant and sometimes contradictory. It has been studied for use in helping to heal wounds and combat dental plaque because of its antimicrobial properties. It is used in hand creams and cosmetics as a soothing emollient and has shown some promise for local treatment of psoriasis, genital warts, frostbite and acne. A study from Ohio State University, reported in March of this year in Veterinary Ophthalmology, found that aloe vera might help to hasten eye wound healing in dogs. Last year the journal Nutrition reported a study on aloe vera and diabetes. Researchers there found a possible use for aloe vera for weight and fat loss in prediabetic individuals and patients newly diagnosed with diabetes. In June of 2013 the journal Metabolic Syndromes and Related Disorders published an article on the subject from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Researchers there discovered that aloe vera preparations could possibly prove useful for lowering blood sugar levels in prediabetes some day.
Some gardeners swear by aloe vera as a treatment to soothe burns and insect bites. For external use cut the leaf at the bottom and collect the gel. Apply to the affected skin.
Aloe vera is used in making certain commercial desserts when a gel is needed. It is used to make pectin, used in jams and preserves instead of gelatin. There are also recipes for preparing aloe vera at home. Some cooks put diced aloe vera leaves into smoothies along with their favorite fruits and vegetables. Vegetarian Times suggests making a pineapple-aloe cocktail with ½ cup pineapple juice, ¼ to ½ cup aloe vera juice, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cranberry juice, 1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey, and a lime wedge for garnish. The drink contains 114 calories per serving.
Aloe vera plants can make an attractive and easy-to-grow addition to your garden or indoor plant collection. There is some possibility that the plants could have health benefits as well, and should be used with caution upon the advice of a physician. Enjoy.