Aloe Vera Plant Description

Aloe vera plant.

Aloe vera plant.

Aloe vera barbadensis miller plants are easy-to-grow succulents. More commonly known as an Aloe vera plant, they are perhaps the most commonly used medical plant in the world.  In addition to the health benefits, they are great mixed in with desert landscaping, according to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Because the plants are sensitive to cold, they can only be grown outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. They do, however, grow very well indoors in pots.

Aloe Vera Plant Appearance

Aloe vera plants grow in a rosette shape. The leaves are edged in small, soft white spines and circle each other in layers. Often mottled in different shades of green, each leaf ends in a point. Although the plant does not always flower, when it does, the flower stalks, which are topped with bright yellow flowers, can be as large as 3 feet tall. Indoor, pot-bound plants rarely flower, but those grown in the desert to their maximum size of 2 feet will flower every spring.

Culture

Aloe vera is hardy and easy to manage. In fact, the only two things they really need, according to the University of California, Davis, Botanical Conservatory, are plenty of sunlight and very well-draining soil. Locate outdoor plants in full sunlight and dry, gritty, well-draining soil. They do well in rocky soils or coarse sand. Indoor plants should be placed near a well-lit window where they will be exposed to a full day’s worth of sunlight. Use a potting mix specifically made for cacti and succulents. Aloe plants are very drought tolerant, so don’t worry about watering it too often. Once every other week should suffice when there is no rain or your plant is indoors. Overwatering is far more dangerous to the health of the plant than drought conditions.

Propagation

Aloe vera plants produce small offsets, or pups, around the base of the plant. These baby plants take root quickly and are the easiest way to propagate Aloe. To do so, wait until the baby plants are about 2 inches tall. Then, slice them away from the mother plant with a sharp tool. Let the bottom of the baby plant heal over before planting it in new potting soil, as this will prevent diseases from entering the open wound. Press the new plant into the soil and water well, then set it in a sunny location to take root.

Considerations

The thick sap of Aloe vera may cause irritation of the skin in people who have an allergy to the plant. If ingested, it can also cause stomach cramps and diarrhea.  However, the toxicity of the plant is very low. Skin irritation usually only lasts for a few minutes, and large quantities of the plant must be consumed for symptoms to occur.

The plant is also toxic to dogs and cats if ingested, according to the ASPCA. Symptoms include depression, vomiting or diarrhea, tremors and changes in the color of the animal’s urine.

Compounds

Aloe vera is composed of 99% water.  It contains two substances called polysaccharides and glycoproteins.  Polysaccharides are known for stimulating skin growth and repair.  Glycoproteins are what speeds the healing process helping to stop pain and inflammation.

All of the beneficial compounds come from the Aloe vera leaf.  The roots are not currently used for anything.

Product Availability

There are hundreds of retail products that contain Aloe vera.  For Aloe vera on skin topical use, it is the main ingredient in many lotions, creams and ointments.  It is commonly found in first-aid and skin care products.

For internal use, Aloe vera is sold as juice, gel, tablets and capsules.

Summary

There are hundreds of varieties of Aloe that have been identified.  The Aloe vera (or the synonym barbadensis miller) variety has proved to contain the most beneficial compounds and is used most frequently in retail products.  It is easy to grow and then you can use it straight from the garden.  If that is not possible there are hundreds of products available that contain Aloe vera.  Be sure to do some research, however, to make sure that you are getting a quality product that actually contains safe ingredients.