It is hard to believe that the tiny blades of
Garlic Chives are related to the wide thick blades of the Aloe. But indeed, both
plants are members of the Lily Family. Aloe is a pretty large genus too,
containing about 300 species. Most of these are from hot dry regions, yet when
you break open an Aloe vera, the gel inside is nice and
cool. No wonder Cleopatra loved using it. In the hot arid deserts of
Africa, it must have seemed like a miracle indeed. Today, the Aloe vera plant is
used in food, cosmetics and health preparations.
Aloe vera leaves have two liquids inside. One is an obnoxious
smelling yellow sap that is found in the cells right next to the outer rind. For
the Aloe, this sap acts as a Band-Aid. If the leaf is attacked or broken this
sap quickly fills the gash and hardens. This keeps the second liquid, the clear
cooling gel, from drying out and causing death to the plant.
Aloes have an amazing ability to grow and shrink
and, thus, survive. Aloes show they are happy by growing long, fat leaves with
full end points.
When the Aloe suffers from lack of water, the end points shrivel
and the leaves start to use their interior moisture causing the leaves to become
If the drought is severe, whole leaves may be sacrificed to save
Aloe vera typically grows from 1 to 3 feet
high in a rosette with new leaves produced from the center of the plant. This
too is a life saving device that allows the older leaves to shade the
newer growth. This formation also allows all possible moisture to be
trapped in the folds of the leaves. This is great for the Aloe in nature,
but for the home gardener it can help lead to over watering and rot.
Therefore, water only occasionally and check the soil to see that it is
actually dry before watering. Aloes grow best in moderately rich, well-drained
soil. Avoid all frost. Aloe tissues can be damaged around 44
degrees if the plant is not healthy. If it is planted outside, avoid all
frost. If potted, choose a wide pot and little Aloes will grow around the
original plant. In the hottest summer regions, place the aloes in
afternoon shade. All other areas should give the plant full sun.
It can be grown on a sunny windowsill through the winter, but be careful
not to let it touch the freezing window pane.
Because the yellow sap next to the rind is
so offensive it is best to slice the leaf cleanly from the plant or pull
the entire leaf off. Then slice the leaf down the center lengthwise,
cutting into the clear gel only. Since the gel loses its potency within
about four hours once exposed to the air, it is best to cut open the leaf
when ready to use.