Also Known As: Van Balen's Aloe
Category: Red Aloes
USDA Hardiness Zones: 9b - 11
OverviewCommonly grown, Aloe vanbalenii is one of the most beautiful and distinctive aloes, with its long, twisted and recurved leaves resembling an octopus. This striking Aloe is a medium to large sized South African species that stays relatively low to the ground and forms clumps of stemless rosettes about 3 feet wide.
DescriptionThe low-growing, almost stemless Aloe vanbalenii eventually forms large clumps with many tight, dense rosettes. This plant is a suckering, branching, fairly large species with a rosette diameter of over 3 feet. The soft-textured, deeply channelled leaves are 70–80 × 12–25 cm long, with the tips almost touching the ground. Two foot long, recurving leaves with cinnamon margins, curl, twist, turn under and around in a most unusual way. This plant has fine teeth along its leaf margins. Partial shade will keep leaves apple green with a rusty copper colored border while planted in full sun will turn this aloe brilliant maroon-pink with light green at leaf bases. Magnificent colors no matter where it is planted. The leaves of A. vanbalenii emit a musty, cinnamon smell when broken.
FloweringThe flowers of Aloe vanbalenii are in late winter to early spring and are on sparsely branched, about 1 meter tall upright inflorescences, in tightly packed, conical racemes. The flower color varies, from different shades of yellow and orange, but is occasionally red. The flowers are tubular in shape, 30-40 mm long and attractive to nectar seeking birds and insects.
Origin / HistoryAloe vanbalenii occurs in northern KwaZulu-Natal and in the southeastern part of Mpumalanga and adjacent areas in Swaziland, growing along the edges of exposed rock sheets or on rocky outcrops, in shallow soils, in bushveld vegetation, at an altitude of between 300–600 m. This area is frost-free with moderately high summer rainfall. The name honors J.C. van Balen, the former Director of the Park Department in Johannesburg, SA, who first collected this species. The leaves and fruits are eaten, and this aloe is planted on royal family graves in Swaziland.
Care / CultivationAloe vanbalenii is drought tolerant but likes water during the growing season in spring and summer. This aloe will get a nice red leaf color if let dry out some, particularly if it's cool out. This plant is a summer grower and while it adapts to winter rainfall the foliage is much showier if kept dry in the winter. During the wet season, remove debris from other plants that might fall on Aloe vanbalenii as it's leaves will quickly rot.
Frost TendernessPlant the Van Balen’s aloe in protected areas where freezes are common. This plant can take light frosts to 25° F. briefly but flower spikes will be damaged below 32°F. Mild leaf damage occurs at about 27F. Plant will often grow back from colder events (down to about 22F).
Use in the GardenThis plant works nicely in succulent and cactus gardens, xeriscape plantings, dry borders and rock gardens. It also makes a nice elevated container plant because the leaves will arch down several feet below the pot. The foliage looks great in combination with other warm colors or contrasted with silver or burgundy. With their attractive foliage, they make beautiful displays when planted in a rockery en masse, to create that effect. Use it in raised planters, small entryway beds or containers for its attractive foliage and form. This plant can also be used for tropical effects and looks nice when mixed with plants the have yellow flowers. Since this plant will form many clumps, give it room to grow.
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