Garden Aloes

Aloe aculeata

Also Known As: Prickly Aloe, Red Hot Poker Aloe

Category: Single Head Stemless Aloes

USDA Hardiness Zones: 9a - 11


This perennial, stemless and generally solitary succulent native to Zimbabwe is a large and showy outdoor plant in frost-free zones. Be sure give this attractive aloe with its yellow to reddish orange flowers a place in your garden. A distinctive South African species grown partly for its ornamental spiny foliage, partly because of its colorful flowers and partly due to its far greater than average cold tolerance.


Distinctive aloe in having numerous very sharp spines on ALL surfaces of the thick, heavy and fleshy leaves. This stemless aloe forms a single, dense rosette of up to 1 m high and wide. The upper parts are curved inwards, which gives the rosette a rounded appearance. Leaves somewhat incurved, up to 60 cm long, grey-green when fresh, purple-bronze under dry conditions, with scattered prickles on whitish tubercles, mainly on the undersurface of the leaves. Leaves are long and quite broad at the base , 120mm wide, from dull green to turquoise with reddish-brown triangular teeth (or thorns) on the margins and undersides. The leaf margins are armed with reddish brown, triangular teeth. Each thorn originates from a thick base, which in some forms is a lighter color than the rest of the leaf, giving it a dotted appearance. These warty spines have a white base, which is very unusual in the aloe world. The spininess is variable, and many older plant populations have no more spines. Curls up in an interesting fold when exposed to high heat and sun. Robust, generally solitary or in small groups, but non-suckering. In optimal light conditions, it turns a lovely red or orange.


The inflorescences vary in number and size, from young to older plants, with younger plants only having one, but in older plants, it can form between three and four branches up to 4ft. Each raceme is long and narrow, gradually tapering towards the tip. Flowers can be solitary racemes or somewhat branched. Flowers are tubular in shape, 1.5 inches in length, and flattened downward helping distinguish this aloes from most other non-suckering, stemless South African Aloes. Some specimens are uniform in color while others bicolored, Colors are variable from red to orange to red and yellow, all the way to greenish yellow. The flowers are followed by seed that are carried in oblong, green capsules of approximately 6 mm long and 3 mm in diameter.

Origin / History

The name 'aculeata' means prickly and refers to the presence of the many tuberculate spines on the leaf surfaces. It is found at altitudes ranging from 500 to 1 700 m, in rocky areas. Aloe aculeata is naturally distributed throughout certain parts of the Limpopo Province, as well as the extreme northern regions of Mpumalanga. Towards the north, the distribution extends into Zimbabwe.

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Care / Cultivation

It needs regular watering in summer, but is dormant in winter and needs very little water. This aloe is relatively easy to cultivate under a wide variety of climatic conditions, provided it is planted in a well-drained situation, given adequate water, but not over watered. It can be grown outdoors in raised beds and terraces if sheltered from winter rain. It can also be planted in pots and placed on bright windowsills. When fertilizing, use a light fertilizer specifically formulated for succulents (high potash fertilizer with a dilute low nitrogen), including all micro nutrients and trace elements. Feed them during the growing season. They do very well in poor soils, so a limited amount of fertilizer is in order. When planting in pots, make sure to use relatively shallow pots to accommodate the fibrous roots, and provide very good drainage. It may stay in the same pot for many years. Water it less than average if in bigger pots. It may be grown in full sun too but protect in summer from afternoon sun, and avoid reflected heat. Plants definitely need a lot of sunlight and though shaded plants develop a deep, bright green coloration, this is not normal and these plants are prone to rot, particularly if their crowns get wet. Aloe aculeata prefers light shade to full sun. It will do its best with some sun and become stressed with inadequate light which could result in poor growth and unnatural shape. It enjoys light-shade. Not a good aloe for shady areas, and a bit prone to rot without full sun conditions. Keep dry in winter or when night temperatures remain below 10° C. Nearly all problems occur as a result of overwatering and poor ventilation, especially when weather conditions are dull and cool or very humid. It likes warmth (recommended minimum winter temperature 5° C) however plants kept perfectly dry can can survive low temperatures, approx. -2° for short periods, but for safe cultivation it is best to avoid freezing temperatures.

Frost Tenderness

Plant is hardy down at least to 20F. Flowers are not nearly as cold tolerant as the plants itself.

Use in the Garden

It is frost sensitive, but drought-tolerant and is suitable for xeriscaping. The attractive, thorny foliage and colorful flower display makes Aloe aculeata an interesting specimen plant for a dry garden.

Read about more Aloes that can be used as a focal points in your garden.

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