Aloes are one of the most popular landscape and potted succulent plants grown in cultivation. They vary in size from barely 1" tall to over 40' tall and nearly as wide. They come in a variety of shades of blue, green, grey, purple, red etc. and a nearly equal variety of shapes. And, as a group, they are relatively easy, carefree plants to grow. If they never flowered they would still be extremely popular plants for gardeners, collectors, landscapers and public gardens. But they have the fantastic additional attraction of making an enormous and breathtaking variety of beautiful and fascinating flowers. This extra 'perk' makes aloes one of the premier choices of all succulent plants one can grow. The following is a pictorial introduction to aloe flowers that can be enjoyed in cultivated plants in the southwest US. This article will cover just the Aloe species starting with the letters a-c. Subsequent articles will provide examples of some of the rest.
One might not be aware of this variety if one's only experience with aloes is through Aloe vera, the most common traditional aloe and one which frankly has one of the least interesting flowers of all aloe species. Aloe flowers vary tremendously in size, shape, color and seasonal occurence. I struggled for some time trying to organize these flowers by either color, size, shape or season... but by far the most interesting organization just happened to be the easiest: alphabetical. So the following is a display of aloe flowers that can be seen in cultivation here in southern California (and probably Arizona), or in greenhouses and similar climates throughout the world. The goal of this article is not to show a photo of every single aloe species flower, but to provide some examples of the variety and colors that exist.
Some of the words used to describe aloe flowers should be explained. First of all, the actual Flowers are the small, individual tubular to bell-shaped colorful structures that make up the Raceme part of the Inflorescence.
This is Aloe albiflora, one of the few white-flowering aloes- showing nicely the individual tubular (unopened) to bell-shaped (open) flowers on this small inflorescence.
The inflorescence is the entire flowering structure- not just the pretty part with the colors, but the stem (peduncle), too. Some inflorescences are solitary (just one flowering structure per aloe) while some are multiple (many aloes have multiple flowering structures, either at the same time, or in succession).
These Aloe burgerfortensis are flowering in winter- note that the one on the right has multiple inflorescences while others seem to have one. These are branching inflorescences, too.
Some inflorescences are branching and some are non-branching. Raceme refers to the part that has the flowers themselves (the pretty colored part). An Open Raceme means the flowers are separated from each other by space, while a Compact Raceme is one in which the flowers are tightly packed together. Some racemes are conical, some are cylindrical, some are tubular (long cylinders), some are globoid (roundish) and some are 'head-shaped' or semi-globoid (rounded on the top but flat on the bottom).
this is an example of an open raceme (Aloe graminicola)
while this unknown aloe has a more compact raceme
the racemes on this hybrid of Aloe excelsa are sort of 'furry' looking- the stamens of the flowers are extending way beyond the flowers themselves giving that effect
The Peduncle supports the raceme (like a trunk supports the branches of a tree). That's probably most of the technical terms we use when describing aloe flowers- the rest are far less technical (eg. corn-cob-like, bushy, fuzzy etc.).
This is the raceme of Aloe africana showing a bit of peduncle right below the lowest flower
Aloe aculeata has one of the most beautiful of all aloe flowers- with tight racemes of downward-pointing bicolored flowers
close up of above flowers
This is a rare color alternative rarely seen of Aloe aculeata
Aloe affinis- flowers of one of the many spotted aloes of South Africa
another shot of Aloe africana (see above in introductory paragraph)
Aloe alooides has unique, very long, tubular compact yellow racemes.
another shot of flowers partially opened
these flowers tend to mature on the sunny side (south side) first, giving these aloes a bicolored effect.
some aloes have less than exciting flowers- this is Aloe amutadensis... still it has nice colors
Aloe andongensis has open, abbreivated conical racemes
One of thes popular aloes in cultivation: Aloe arborescens have bright red conical somewhat compact racemes
this is a rare yellow form of Aloe arborescens
Aloe aristata is a small spotted aloe with delicate pinkish-orange flowers that open up at various times throughout the year
Aloe babatiensis normally has red flowers, but this is a yellow form in Huntington Gardens, California
this is the delicate flowers of a small plant called Aloe bakeri, a less than ornamental species, but a common one for hybridizing
for example, this is Aloe bakeri x sinkatana (another commonly hybridized aloe)- the flower is an amazing perfect mix half way between the two original flowers
these beautiful flowers are rarely appreciated since they grow on these massive trees (Aloe barberae aka bainsei)
Aloe barberae flowers have very short peduncles- almost the entire inflorescence is raceme
Aloe bellatula is a thin, delicate aloe with wonderfully pale-pink open racemes
This aloe, Aloe branddraaiensis, is another spotted South African aloe known for its amazing inflorescences- about 25-30 racemes like this per inflorescence
Here is the plant in full glorious bloom (that is a single inflorescence)
This is a hybrid call Aloe Brass Hat... very open racemes and soft, pastel colors
Aloe brevifolia is a very commonly used landscape plant since it grows in tight, small clumps... and though its flowers are not startling, they are still attractive
One of the most beautiful aloe flowers of all is this Aloe broomii var tarkaensis- a solitary, non-branching, thick, lime-green inflorescence with a brilliant band of orange that slowly makes its way to the top as the flowers open
Same plant but farther away
This is a wonder shot of Aloe buhrii- 3 plants with 3 different colored flowers
this is a close up of the red form of Aloe buhrii
this less than striking flower belongs to Aloe bussei, a non-South African aloe. In general, the South African aloes have the best flowers
Aloe cameronii is known for its deep red leaves in times of stress, but it also has even redder flowers
Aloe cameronii flowers are branched and have red, somewhat compact, columnar racemes
Aloe capitata, from Madagascar, has unique gold-colored head shaped racemes with drooping flowers
this shot shows the pollen coming of these flowers
Aloe castanea has one of the most unusual inflorescences- solitary, non-branching and nearly always growing at an angle
Close-up of Aloe castanea flowers showing the un-opened and opened flowers
This Aloe castanea has unusual twisted and upright flowers, but amazing nonetheless
Aloe chabaudii has highly branched inflorescences with open, head-shaped red racemes
this is a hybrid of Aloe chlortolirioides (a grass aloe) and the popular Aloe arborescens (used in many hybrids)
Aloe ciliaris flowers are small, but quite colorful and can show up year round (though mostly in winter)
plant in winter, southern California
Aloe claviflora flowers are quite striking, with bright yellow stamens sticking out of red-pink flowers- in great contrast to the pale blue-green leaves
another rare white flower- Aloe compressa, with an unusual open, globoid rosette on a very long peduncle
This is one of the more ornamental red flowers- very symmetrically arranged raceme of Aloe comptonii
A fairly rare aloe in cultivation, this is the flower of Aloe confusa, a very curious, droopy-leaved plant
Aloe conifera has elongated, corn-cob-looking, very compact racmes of yellow flowers
this is one of the easier grass aloes to grow- Aloe cooperi.. many grass aloes have somewhat similar flowers to this- orange-green bicolored flowers on long peduncles
Aloe cryptopoda (this form sometimes called Aloe wickensii) has bicolored, conical racemes- wonderfully attractive flowers!
close up of the Aloe cryptopoda flowers
About Geoff Stein
Veterinarian and Exotic Plant Lover... and obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.