Garden Aloes

Aloe tongaensis

Also Known As: Aloidendron tongaense, Neanderthaloe, Mozambique Tree Aloe, Aloe Medusa

Category: Tree Aloes

USDA Hardiness Zones:


Aloidendron tongaense (Aloe tongaensis) is a freely branching, heavy stemmed tree Aloe bears masses of puffy orange/apricot flowers in late winter. This medium-to-large sized tree aloe, with a rounded crown, growing to 9-12+ feet tall, looks very similar to both Aloe barberae and Aloe eminens. Aloe tongaensis has 18 inch long pale green rubbery leaves that often take on a orange hue during the cooler months of the year.


It grows as a massive, branching tree, almost as tall as its larger and more widespread relative, the giant tree aloe Aloidendron barberae. Formation of heavy, sculptured, grey trunk occurs in only a few years with arching, broad, strap-like, dark green leaves forming the canopy. The leaf-bearing branches are about 30 mm in diameter. The leaves, about 20, are carried in rosettes at the branch ends. The leaves of Aloe tongaensis are firm, leathery and the upper portion deeply channelled. It looks similar to A. barberae, however its leaves are slightly more yellow. The lower surface is rounded and the leaf-margin with small teeth, 2 mm long and 5–10 mm apart. The leaf tip is sharp (acute). It has showy, curved, orange flowers, and grows well in sandy coastal regions. Its roots are fleshy and about 33 mm in diameter in mature plants.


The flowers of Aloe tongaensis are it's primary distinctive feature, growing on short multi branched inflorescences, and topped with short, almost capitate racemes of yellow-orange flowers, all facing up until opening at which time they drop downward (this is nothing like an Aloe barberae inflorescence). The flowers also always seem to be reaching for the sky, often far above or at least noticeably above the vegetation (something else one never sees in Aloe barberae inflorescences). The inflorescence is branched like a candle-stick (candelabriform) and up to 350 mm tall and about 190 mm in diameter. The racemes are 40–60 mm long and laxly arranged, ascending, with yellow buds. These are pendent when the flowers open. The fruiting capsules become erect after flowering. The seeds are flattened, winged and about mm in diameter. Flowering time is mainly autumn.

Origin / History

Aloidendron tongaense, formerly Aloe tongaensis, is a species of plant in the genus Aloidendron, native to sandy tropical coastal forests in KwaZulu-Natal, at the border between Mozambique and South Africa. The specific Latin epithet tongaense, refers to Tongaland in northern, coastal Zululand. This plant has long been considered to be the Mozambique form of the tree aloe, Aloe barberae that grows in the summer rainfall eastern regions of southern Africa. Grower Kevin Coniff named the plant Aloe barberae (Aloe bainesii) ‘Medusa” in the 1980's. He noticed that these plants grew quite differently from typical Aloe barberae, branching and flowering at a younger age and producing pale orange-yellow flowers, instead of pink flowers. In 1994 John Lavranos identified these plants as the Mozambique form of Aloe barberae and noted that the seed for Coniff’s original plants was collected along the Mozambique coast near its capital Maputo. The new species, Aloe tongaensis, was officially described 2011. Leaf size and width alone is one of the best indicators that Aloe tongaensis is not just another Aloe barberae. Eventually Aloe barberaes develop into massive trees, something which Aloe tongensis seem reluctant to do (only growing up to maybe 15 feet tall), and trunk diameter, though pretty thick, pales compared to those of mature Aloe barberaes. Cultivationally the two are very similar, however, with both being among the most cold sensitive of all the aloes, reluctant to die from freezing, but badly damaged at temps below 28F (Aloe tongaensis seems a bit tougher in this respect).

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Care / Cultivation

Aloe tongaensis prefers full sun and is waterwise when established, but much faster growing with frequent deep waterings between dry periods. It tolerates having water withheld but grows very slowly. Plants grow best in well-drained soil, and should reach flowering size within about eight years. Watering should be reduced in winter. Aloe tongaensis is huge aloe mite magnet. If grown in shady conditions, the leaves tend to be larger. Plants prefer a mineral-poor, slightly acidic, sandy soil. Aloidendron tongaense does best in coastal or semi-coastal gardens or as a container plant. It is easily propagated by branch ends (branch cuttings) or seed. Aloidendron tongaense seed should be sown preferably during the warmer months, in a shady position. Cover with a thin layer of slightly acidic sand, and keep moist. Germination is usually within three weeks. Seedlings grow slow and are best planted out when large enough to handle. Propagation from stem cuttings is best undertaken in spring. Allow the cutting to form a heel, by placing it on a dry window sill for a week. Cuttings are best rooted in containers in a well-drained medium, such as sand. Once rooted, they can be planted in individual containers and kept until well established. Best to feed plants with an organic feeding (compost or any other liquid fertilizer).

Frost Tenderness

Aloidendron tongaense is hardy to around 22°F. Plants were killed at 20 F during January 2007 cold spell.

Use in the Garden

The plants are also popular in California, where it is grown as a feature plant. It also grows well in Mediterranean-type gardens in other parts of the world.

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Learn More

The information on this page about Aloe tongaensis has been gathered and summarized from the sources below. Visit these pages to learn more.

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