Also Known As: Aloidendron barberae, Giant Tree Aloe, Tree Aloe, South African Tree Aloe, Aloe bainesii, Aloe barberae
Category: Tree Aloes
USDA Hardiness Zones: 9b - 11
OverviewAloidendron barberae is Africa's largest aloe-like plant that grows into a tree ranging from 30 to 50 feet tall or more with upright-growing thick mottled gray stems. This South African native is a striking sculptural tree aloe with grey, smooth, bark bearing a rounded, neat crown and salmon pink flowers in winter.
DescriptionAloidendron barberae is Africa's largest aloe reaching up to 15 meters in height and 0.9 meters (3 feet) in stem diameter. This tree-size aloe eventually develops massive trunks and branches. It forms a stout trunk that can eventually grow over 2.5m in diameter and usually has a broad 'foot' at ground level. The bark of the tree-trunks is grayish-brown and rough to the touch. The branching is forked or dichotomous and eventually forms a spreading, rounded crown. The stems branch out carrying rosettes of deeply channeled, recurved dark green leaves which are sheathed at the base. Leaves are long, very rubbery and flexible, though break easily when bent too far. The leaf margins are cartilaginous with small whitish teeth. Tree aloe is a slow growing species; young plants are awkward in character, but eventually become unique garden plants.
FloweringIn winter the Inflorescence of Aloidendron barberae can be 500mm in length (20 inches), has up to 3 branches, and range in color from rose-pink in the South to apricot-orange in the north. It's inflorescence is seldom longer than the rosettes and may be hidden amongst the leaves. The racemes are cylindrical and its flowers have a swollen, tubular shape. Aloe barberae is the only tree aloe with orangey pink flowers. The flowers are pollinated by birds and will also attract bees and other insects, which in turn, attract insect eating birds. The capsules ripen in late spring and release their seeds, which are dispersed by wind.
Origin / HistoryIt is native to South Africa northwards to Mozambique. Aloidendron barberae was first collected and submitted for classification by Mary Elizabeth Barber, who was a plant collector in the former Transkei who sent specimens of the plant and its flowers to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and it was named in her honor. The same plant was also sent to Kew in 1873 by the explorer and painter Mr. Thomas Baines who collected it in Natal. Subsequently it was named Aloe bainesii. Although known as A. bainseii for many years, Aloe barberae was the name first given to this plant, and takes precedence according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, and so is the epithet used in the combination Aloidendron barberae. The genus Aloe was reassessed and split into a few genera in 2013. The genus Aloidendron, meaning 'tree aloe' was formed and includes all the tree aloes, recognising that they are more closely related to each other than to other aloes. Its habitat is occurs in dense, tall bush and subtropical coastal forests, kloofs and dry valleys in the summer rainfall eastern regions of southern Africa.
Care / CultivationThe tree aloe is easy to grow in gardens as long as it is planted in full sun or light shade in a fairly well drained soil (on a slope is best) and irrigated only occasionally. In the wild it grows in loamy, humus rich soils, so plant it with added compost and mulch yearly. If pruning to shape when young, best to prune only small branches. Old larger diameter branches do not heal well. Very old specimens can develop hollow branches or trunks, so check for signs of this for safety. Best planted in spring. Very low maintenance. It thrives in cultivation and is easily propagated just remember to provide enough space for its eventual size. The leaves may be attacked by aphids and scale insects. Prone to mealy bug, too, if grown in any shade. Waterlogged soil can lead to attacks by pest and diseases. This plant is easily propagated from stem cuttings or truncheons, which are allowed to dry for a couple of days before being planted out.
Frost TendernessThis species is native to coastal zones of eastern South Africa where it grows in frost free valleys on well draining sites. Hardy to about 25 degrees F and reportedly survives short durations down to 22 degrees F. It will tolerate light frost if it is planted in a protected place, covered for the first few years and kept on the dry side in winter.
Use in the GardenIt is a great tree for the succulent garden and is fairly clean so good near a pool and can be kept many years in a large container. It does get a thick buttressed base with age so make sure to given it enough space to grow. It has a shallow-spreading, non-aggressive root system but enough space should be provided for its eventual size, especially its massive stem base, and therefore should not be planted close to any buildings. The tree aloe is often used as an ornamental plant. It makes an excellent focal point in the garden and is great to plant in bold clumps in both garden and office parks. The 'Tree Aloe' may be the perfect centerpiece for a rock garden, raised planter or on a garden slope. This fast growing tree aloe is used for its architectural shape and thrives in cultivation.
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