Also Known As: Cat's Tail Aloe
Category: Large Clumping Aloes
USDA Hardiness Zones: 9b - 11
OverviewAloe castanea, also known as Cat's Tail Aloe, is a branching tree Aloe from South Africa which may grow upright to 8-12 feet tall or as a shrubby collection of headswith clusters of small, dark, orange-brown flowers.
DescriptionAloe castanea can grow into a small tree (8 to 12 feet tall) with a single main trunk at ground level with several spreading branches higher up or can be pruned to enhance lower branching to form a dense shrub-like mass 6 to 10 feet tall. The leaves are up to 150cm (5 feet) long with the older leaves persisting along the trunk providing a 'skirt' with the margins armed with firm, small, brown teeth. Leaves tend to rise up like the tail of a cat. Leaves are usually bluish-green and generally upright with a slight curve inward and sharp, hooked yellowish teeth with brown tips. The rosette gives rise to multiple, fuzzy, orange racemes. Usually branching near the base or above.
FloweringThe blooms, which appear in mid-winter, are an unusual color of dark orange-brown and are formed along the curled and snake-like inflorescence, hence the common name Cat's Tail Aloe. The nectar of this plant is an unusual brown color. Multiple heads in bloom can be quite striking. The flowers themselves all align along the upside of the rachis/peduncle slanting outward away from the plant. This plant is not a always a reliable flowerer and tends to need full sun to flower well (too much shade and flowers often do not matieralize for years). The inflorescence develops during winter as an unbranched, densely flowered spike with short, reddish brown, bell-like flowers with protruding stamens.
Origin / HistoryIt is a native of South Africa, and more specifically of what used to be called the Northern Province of South Africa which is now called Limpopo. The specific epithet 'castanea' is the Latin word for 'chestnut' in reference to this aloe's brownish colored flowers.
Care / CultivationThis Aloe is drought tolerant but it blooms better if given some water in the Summer, but it does need good drainage. If they are grown outdoors in warm climates, they should be planted in full sun, or light shade. Also, surprisingly, this Aloe prefers rich soil. Adding a layer of compost every year is a good thing. Established plants will survive a drought quite well. If you live in a more temperate area it's best to leave your Aloe plant in a pot, indoors and place it near a window that gets a lot of sun. You can move the pot outdoors during the summer months. The height and spread can be manipulated greatly if the plant is appropriately pruned from a young age.
Frost TendernessCan take a tiny bit more cold than the average South African aloe. Hardy to minus 5°C (22°F) it withstands moderate frost, but is normally grown as a potted plant, indoors or on the summer patio. Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft garden lists it as hardy to 20° F on his List of Hardy Aloes.
Use in the GardenThe colorful foliage Aloe castanea can provide striking seasonal interest in the garden, is attractive to birds and insects and deserves wider use in the garden.
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