Also Known As: Malagasy Aloe, Vahondrandra
Category: Single Head Tree Aloes
USDA Hardiness Zones: 10a - 11
OverviewAloe helenae is smallish tree aloe from Southern Madagascar which is typically non-branching, and grows to 13 feet tall with recurving green leaves. Also known as the Vahondrandra, it still quite rare in cultivation, frequently sought after by collectors and on the IUCN Red list as an endangered.
DescriptionA non-branching tree Aloe with long hanging leaves, from dry SW Madagascar which eventually grows to 4m. Aloe helenae has a relatively slender trunk which supports a single rosette of leaves. A mature specimen may offset lower down the trunk. I has 4 foot long recurved and deeply channeled olive green leaves that turn red in bright light and drought. Leaves feature many tiny red serrations along their margins.
FloweringDuring the late winter to early spring Aloe helenae puts up multiple inflorescences with large numbers of crowded flowers, each from yellowish green to yellowish orange. The racemes are cylindrical, resembling the inflorescences of the Australian protea relatives in the genus Banksia. The red flower buds fade to pale yellow before opening with flaring petals.
Origin / HistoryThis plant is endemic to the Fort Dauphin region in the extreme south-west of the Toliara Province of Madagascar, where only two or three very small populations are known to occur in thorny bush along sandy shores. The plant's name honors Helen Decary, the wife of Raymond Decary, a French financial administrator and 20th century botanist in Madagascar. It is estimated that there are around 200 – 500 Vahondrandras in the wild and that its population may be dwindling. Aloe helenae is considered critically endangered. The biggest threat to the survival of Vahondrandra is the destruction of its habitat, which is being cleared for agriculture and mining. While the Vahondranda may not survive in the wild for much longer, there are a few living plants in botanic gardens around the world. Also, Vahondradra is occasionally being sold for private cultivation, but is still quite rare both in its natural habitat and in other parts of the world.
Care / CultivationPlant in full sun in a well-drained soil and irrigate occasionally to infrequently - likely can be unirrigated once established. It grows near the ocean in nature so likely can be planted at least in near coastal gardens. Will easily naturalize in mild climates.
Frost TendernessThis plant has only been in cultivation in near frost free gardens. Until more information is known it's frost tolerance is listed at 30 °F.
Use in the GardenA very attractive and unusual species that is is known to be easy to cultivate in gardens in mild areas.
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