Many hundreds of species of aloes are in cultivation and it would seem that would be enough to chose from should you want to collect and grow aloes, either as indoor plants, outdoor potted plants, or as landscape plants. However there are nearly as many (if not more) Aloe hybrids on the market as there are aloe species. Many of these hybrids have been established and sold for years in the nursery trade, but there is a massive recent introduction of many new hybrids being named, advertised and sold all over the country and perhaps the world. It is impossible to keep up with them all.
Not all aloe hybrids are products of human intervention. Many, if not most, aloe species will readily hybridize if the pollen is available. Natural hybrids (called ‘Garden Origin' Hybrids) occur in many areas of Africa where species are growing near each other. The native pollinators (sun birds, bees etc.) are not very species selective so it should not be surprising hybrids show up all the time. Most of these hybrids, despite their common occurrence, are not ‘officially named' so going into more detail about them is difficult. Natural hybrids are, due to their random nature, hard to categorize and they vary tremendously often making the assignment of their parental makeup impossible.
Typical 'Garden Hybrid'- Aloe africana x cameronii (left), parent Aloe africanas (middle) and Aloe cameronii (right)
Los Angeles arboretum scene with a number of hybrids in it (notably the very common Aloe striata x Aloe maculata hybrids in the center with the red-orange flowers)
Above are two photos of Aloe 'principes' a very common landscape hybrid of Aloe arborescens (below), but a variable one
Aloe arborescens in Huntington Gardens. This is a common species used in hybrids
Another garden hybrid in the Huntington Gardens: Aloe capitata x marlothii (left) with parent Aloe capitata (right) and Aloe marlothii below
Most of the Aloe hybrids I will be discussing are the manmade variety. When I first became interested in Aloes and started to collect them, I discovered several vendors were selling a number of the man-made hybrids. I obtained a few of these and was often pleasantly surprised by their hardiness, beauty and, often, small size. I decided to collect them all. Then I began to realize there were a lot more out there than I had thought and that collecting them all was going to be costly, frustrating and probably an unrealistic goal. There are virtually an unlimited number of Aloe hybrids possible, and many look so much alike that I really am lost when it comes to telling them many of them apart. And these are only the ‘named hybrids'. (see the hybrids in photos above). For more information about how hybrids or cultivars are named, see this article from OregonState.edu or this one from Floridata.com
Aloe 'Hercules' is a popular and excellent larger hybrid for the garden
The parents of Aloe 'Hercules' are Aloe barberae (aka bainsii)- left, and Aloe dichotoma (right)
Aloe 'Goliath' (left) is a related and also excellent landscape plant- it is a hybrid of Aloe barberae, too, and a non-branching Madagascan species, Aloe vaombe (right)
Two hybrids growing in the Huntington Botanical Gardens: Aloe 'Pink Perfection' (left) and Aloe 'Tingtinkie' (right)
two more popular Huntington hybrids: Aloe 'Sophie' (left- blooms nearly year-round) and Aloe 'William Hertrich' (right)
There are written guidelines for naming hybrids and other manmade plants (sometimes referred to as cultigens or cultivars) in the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP). This repeatedly revised set of standards for naming manmade plants is something I have not personally seen and I cannot find much about its contents on the internet other than the multiple sites asking people to buy it. Many plant groups seem to have their own registries with specific guidelines and governing bodies for how to officially name plants (see Roses, Orchids, Bromeliad societies for example). But there does not appear to be any such organization for plants like Aloes. From what I understand, at least as it pertains to things like creating hybrid Aloes, all one really needs to do to ‘officially' name a hybrid is to be the first to publish it in written form (this includes a written list used to advertise plants for sale). I assume the parentage or something about how the hybrid was created needs to be recorded as well so one can claim ‘squatters rights' to their hybrid in order to keep someone else from recreating the same hybrid and propagating it and selling it under another name. Since there is no official governing body that all these ‘official' hybrids have to pass through, one can imagine the hodgepodge of hybrids produced for public consumption by various uncooperative sources and the duplication and questionable parentage many of these plants have. There should be a better way, but I don't see anyone working on this situation on the near horizon. So for now, it is buyer beware.
Three suspect Aloe hybrid names (all from the same source): Aloe 'Corumba' (left), Aloe 'Little Porker' (middle) and Aloe 'Kid's Kandy' (right)
Aloe 'Brown Powys' is another confusing and suspicious proper name (both above plants were sold as this, and look very little alike)
Some of the first Aloe hybrids I came across and grew included 'Doran Black', 'Blue Elf', Aloe 'Lizard Lips', Aloe 'Pepe', 'Sparkling Burgundy' and 'Rooikappie'. All of these were fairly common in cultivation and I collected them right away. Then I started to visit the nearby botanical gardens and came across dozens more Aloe hybrids. After that I started to order Aloe hybrids on line and plant them in the garden. However, most aloe hybrids sold in cultivation are miniature plants and many do not make for good landscaping aloes, quickly getting lost in the developing garden biota and eventually being shaded out completely by larger plants and even rotting. From then on I pretty much limited my collecting of hybrids to those I planned to keep in pots from the start. Below are some of these hybrids I have collected over the years. These are small plants, perfect for container culture or putting in smaller areas of a garden with few larger plants that would cover them up.
Aloe 'Doran Black' is one of the most recognized and commonly sold Aloe hybrids (left) but who's parentage is simply unknown, as is Aloe 'Blue Elf' (also sold as Aloe 'California')- right- this is another unknown parentage (perhaps Aloe humilis is one of the parents?), but is an Ed Hummel addition to the aloe world
Aloe 'Lizard Lips' is an excellent grower in my garden (left). This is a hybrid between Aloe descoingsii (a common parent for many small hybrids) x Aloe calcairophila and the result crossed with Aloe bellatula. John Bleck, one of the more well known hybridizers of Aloes, came up with this popular plant; Aloe 'Pepe' (right photo kniphofia). This is hybrid between Aloe descoingsii (again) and Aloe hawothioides. This hybrid is hardier and easier to grow than either parent
both Aloe 'Sparkling Burgundy' (left) of unknown parentage, and Aloe 'Rooikappie' (right) do well in my garden. This latter plant is a Cynthia Giddy Aloe sinkatana hybrid (the other parent is unknown)
Some other popular Aloe hybrids I have had success with include Aloe 'Black Beauty' (left) which as an Aloe rauhii and Aloe parvula, both very commonly used plants in hybridization; and A and Aloe 'Brass Hat' (right), another John Bleck plant with a complicated but well documented heritage: (Aloe haworthioides x Aloe bakeri) X ((Aloe descoingsii x Aloe calcairophila (basically Aloe 'Pepe') X again to Aloe bakeri)
Also, Aloe 'Crosby's Prolific' (left) which is an Aloe nobilis (itself a hybrid species) and Aloe humilis var echinatum; and Aloe 'Green Gold' (right)
Aloe 'Lavendar Beauty' (left); Aloe 'Lysa' (right), a D. Cummings cross between Aloe bakeri and Aloe variegata
Some of these hybrids look a lot alike: Aloe 'Olympic Star' (a probable Aloe rauhii hybrid) (left) and Aloe 'Quicksilver' (right), another complicated John Bleck hybrid: Aloe rauhii X ((Aloe descoingsii x Aloe calcairophila) X Aloe bellatula)
And still somewhat similar are Aloe 'Wunderkind' (left) which is a Brian Kemble Aloe deltoideodonta hybrid; and Aloe 'Winter Sky' (right) has Aloe descoingsii as one of its parents (not sure the other)
Aloe nobilis (left), now considered a species, is actually a man-made hybrid with unclear parentage (Aloe perfoliata x Aloe arborescens is one guess); Aloe 'Tropic World' (right) is one of my favorites, but not sure this is an authentically named hybrid
Aloe 'Reseda Rose' ((Aloe myricantha x Aloe bowiea) X Aloe bowiea)- left; Aloe 'Blimye Limey', another John Bleck hybrid with a really complex parentage: (((Aloe descoingsii x Aloe calcairiophila) X Aloe bakeri) X Aloe bakeri) X (Aloe bakeri X (Aloe albiflora x Aloe bellatula))... yikes!
Aloe 'Walmsley's Blue', a very common hybrid (left); Aloe 'Walmsley's Bronze', less common and less hardy, too (right)- very old hybrids of unknown parentage
one of my favorite hybrids, from Aloe humilis and who knows what else, Aloe 'Jaws'
Aloe 'Peregrino' (a questionable name) Aloe 'Fiesta' (probably a real name, but can't find out much about it)
As one can see, there is a lot more that goes into making some of these hybrids than just putting some pollen here and there. But also one might notice that many of the same species keep showing up in these parentages. Though not necessarily that ornamental themselves, they are for the most part, heavily offsetting, spotted, rough-leaved plants whos characteristics come to the surface prominently in hybridization. Below are some shots of the commonly used parents in these smaller hybrids:
Aloe bakeri is a tiny, somewhat unattractive, suckering spotted aloe, but some of the best hybrids have this in them (left); Aloe bellatula is another common aloe often used in hybridization, thanks to its tendency to sucker profusely and its small, rough, long, thin leaves and miniature teeth
Two popular outdoor landscaping plants are also commonly used in hybridization: Aloe brevifolia (left) and Aloe humilis (right)
Aloe parvula is one of the most commonly used Aloes for hybridization (left), and Aloe pearsonii (right) is used often, too, though less often in named hybrids
Aloe bowiea is a miniature grass aloe (left) and Aloe descoingsii (right- this is a variegated version of it) is probably the single most used plant for hybridization, thanks to its small, compact size, suckering and sturdy, wedge-shaped leaves.
These two super-minature aloes are also common sources from hybrids: Aloe calcairophila (left, only about 2 inches from end to end) has unique distichous nature for a tine aloe; and Aloe haworthioides is another tiny, delicate suckering plant with lots of soft, ornamental teeth
Neither Aloe rauhii (left) or Aloe sinkatana (right) are known for their beauty, but they are both vigorous, spotted, suckering small plants and frequently used hybrid creation
and this peculiar hybrid that I see often in garden outlet stores: Aloe 'Humvir'
which supposedly is a hybrid between this miniature Aloe, Aloe humilis (left) and a trunk-forming species Aloe vryheidensis (right)
Some of the more well-known collections of hybrids come from Rancho Soledad Nursery and their tissue culture company (Rancho Tissue Technologies) and was run at least in part by Kelly Griffin (hence the name Kelly Griffin Hybrids). Some of these are among the most amazing and colorful little aloe gems one can grow and though I am not really sure all of them are unique, they are for the most part certainly worth collecting and growing. Some other hybridizers currently cranking out some nice hybrids include John Bleck, Tim Harvey and Karen Zimmerman. Earlier hybridizers with a number of popular named plants include David Verity, Ed Hummel, Dick Wright, R. Grimm etc. There are a number of aloe hybrids being introduced in massive numbers under the group name "Proven Winners," some which appear to be renamed Kelly Griffin Hybrids. I am not sure if the Proven Winner people purchased the rights to sell and rename these hybrids, but either way, it sure creates a lot of confusion and doesn't seem to follow the general rules set down by the ICNCP. I am too naïve to know the real story here but welcome any comments regarding this situation. Below are some examples of the newer Aloe hybrids available in cultivation. Some are unnamed but no less deserving of collection or showing off.
Aloe 'Divine' Aloe 'Denise' (both)
Aloe 'Lavender Star' Aloe 'Little Spikey'
Aloe 'Medium Well Done' Aloe 'Pink Blushes' at Rancho Soledad
Aloe 'Raspberry Ribbons' Aloe 'Silver Ridges' at Rancho Soledad
Aloe 'Sean's Red' Aloe 'Son of Sugar'
Above are more of the newer Aloe hybrids (most Kelly Griffin creations except the top left is a Tim Harvey creation, but who names I do not know (or they have no names), except the last one on the bottom right- a new one I just got called Aloe 'Sunrise'
A couple of the 'Proven Winners' Aloes that appear unique: Aloe 'Grassy Lassie' (left) and Aloe 'Fire Ranch', which is a mixture of two of my favorite Aloe species (see below)
Aloe vaotsanda (left) is a highly ornamental tree aloe from Madagascar, and Aloe divariacata (right) is an great, colorful suckering aloe also from Madagacar. These are the parents of Aloe 'Fire Ranch'
I should at least mention that there are a large number of intergeneric Aloe hybrids as well, most crossed with Gasteria species, some which are extremely common in cultivation and very hardy, excellent landscape and/or potted plants
X Gasteraloe 'Green Ice' (left) is a Aloe variegata hybrid, though the Gasteria parent is unclear. Either way, it is a very common nursery plant and a good grower; a Bill Baker X Gasteraloe (right)
X Gasteraloe 'Goliath' X Gasteraloe 'Ghost of Carlsbad'
X Gasteraloe 'White Wings' X Gasteraloe 'Wart Hog'
I don't know if this one has a name, but it is one of the most commonly available X Gasteraloes in cultivation (left) and is a hybrid of Aloe aristata (right) and probably Gasteria batesiana- it is an excellent and prolific grower and a very hardy landscape plant
Though this looks like X Gastworthia (Gasteria X Haworthia) 'Royal Princess', it is supposedly an Aloe X Haworthia, though doubt it has a name.
This intergeneric Aloe hybrid is called X Aloloba 'Jarden' and is a cross between an Aloe and an Astroloba (no idea which ones, though). Right photo is of an Astroloba just to give you an idea what they look like. This Aloloba is another very common nursery plant though I never see it identified
For more on the rules of naming plant hybrids, see this website:
Here are some photos of some Karen Zimmerman Aloe hybrids.
Here is a discussion of some Kelly Griffen hybrids.
Here is a great web site for Aloe Hybrids: http://www.aloaceae.com/VENTA/ALH.htm