What’s Blooming in Paradise: Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)
First impression: Honeysuckle-shaped blossoms in yellow, oranges and a shrimp pink. These bright blossoms cover the upright flower stem which stands taller than the plant. I notice the plump green leaves in a pattern that reminds me of a starburst. They are edged with serrated teeth to prevent breakage and/or being eaten. No fragrance that I can detect, but a hummingbird would love to partake of this beauty. Look but don’t touch, a sticky situation might occur if you try to pick these blossoms at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.
Upon further investigation: Aloe hails from the Old World and can easily be confused with over 380 species. Soap aloe gets its name from being used as an alternative to soap and also as a healing or softening herbal remedy. Old World origin conjures up that aloe has been available, adored, and utilized for longer than we can count on our hands and toes together. As a member of this family, you can expect drought tolerance and oodles of plant stages that are attractive to wildlife. Pollinators, including hummers, feed on the sweet nectar from the long and slender tubular flowers.
Each blossom consists of 20-30 flowers emerging from the end of a tall, branched, stiff flowerstalk. These flowers are the colors of sunrise in bright shades of yellows, oranges, blues, and pinks. I have heard many a gasp from northern visitors who had never seen Aloe bloom. Unlike agaves who bloom once in a lifetime, aloes bloom many, many times in their lifetime. Once the flowers begin to wilt, they produce a light-green-colored seedpod. Soap aloe can also clump form offsprings, so the seeds are not necessary and can be removed for aesthetics.
Of course when we think of aloe, it’s the leaves that we all covet. They are leathery on the outside and plump with healing jelly on the inside. They are arranged in a gorgeous whorled rosette pattern with a short trunk at the base, so they make a very attractive, xeric groundcover.
Maculata means spotted and our star can be identified by its white spots or streaks on the green leaves. They are edged with small sharp teeth, so look out! These barbs try to protect the aloe from all those critters, including us, who want to get to the succulent juice inside.
Maximum growth of the shrub is 2-3 feet tall. Pruning can be done carefully but really not necessary. Many times I have cut off a leaf for the healing gel to soothe kitchen and sunburns. This is a must-have side benefit for planting this over-achiever in your garden.
When transplanting the babies, wear thick leather gloves and long sleeved shirts. Wrapping a long rolled-up section of newsprint or fabric around a plant provides a convenient handle that avoids the edged teeth. Whaa-la! You have another fabulous aloe plant that is beautiful inside and out, and rewards you with the gift of healing without a lot of fuss or muss. Now that’s my kinda plant!
Unique long bloomer
Does well in sandy soil
Likes full sun
Easy to maintain
Easily propagated by itself
Makes your northern guests very happy to see an aloe bloom
Is great for a hard to grow area
Must have for hummers – Cold tolerant Great habitat plant
Be careful with teeth on leaves
Who doesn’t love hummers????
Conclusion: Aloehow unique and beautiful, we usually only think of it from a lotion or cream. Our aloe is freerange and blooming, blooming, blooming in our tropical eye-catching garden.
Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!