Garden Aloes

Aloe ferox

Also Known As: Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, Cape Aloe, Alligator Jaw Aloe

Category: Branching Aloes

USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11


Aloe ferox (Cape Aloe) from South Africa is a tall, single-stemmed aloe, that can grow up to 10 feet (3.0 m) in height with a dense rosette of blue-green, lance-shaped leaves. This is one of the best known South african plants with a long history of medicinal use.


Aloe ferox grows up to 6-9 feet tall (180-270 cm) and 3-5 feet wide (90-160 cm). It is a variable species, and plants may differ physically from area to area, due to local conditions. Its leaves are thick and fleshy, arranged in rosettes, and have reddish-brown spines on the margins with smaller spines on the upper and lower surfaces on younger plants. The old leaves remain after they have dried, forming a petticoat on the stem. The leaves are a dull green, sometimes with a slightly blue look to them. They may also have a reddish tinge.


Aloe ferox displays flowers atop a large candelabra-like inflorescence. There are usually between five and eight branches, each carrying a spike-like head of many flowers. In late fall to mid-winter Cape Aloe produces bright red-orange, tubular flowers with inner white petals and dark orange stamens protruding from the mouth. The flowers produce nectar and are attractive to birds and bees.

Origin / History

The Cape Aloe has a wide distribution throughout the Cape Region of South Africa and occupies a wide range of habitats.

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Care / Cultivation

Plant in full sun and irrigate little to regularly - plants are known to tolerate very dry conditions but look best with occasion irrigation. Do not trim off the dried leaves as they protect the trunk from excessive sun, heat or cold. Virtually disease free. Watch for scale insects and mealybugs.

Frost Tenderness

The foliage on this plant is hardy to at least 20° F but the winter flowers can be damaged at 24° F.

Use in the Garden

Cape aloe is great for beds and borders, rock gardens, succulent gardens, Mediterranean gardens or in decorative containers. This plant makes a beautiful and dramatic specimen for the garden and is great for attracting nectar-feeding pollinators. Deer resistant. The bitter aloe is most famous for its medicinal qualities. In parts of South Africa, the bitter yellow juice found just below the skin has been harvested as a renewable resource for two hundred years. The hard, black, resinous product is known as Cape aloes or aloe lump and is used mainly for its laxative properties but is also taken for arthritis. 'Schwedenbitters' which is found in many pharmacies contains bitter aloe. The gel-like flesh from the inside of the leaves is used in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound-healing properties. It also is used in scalp to promote hair growth and prevent dandruff. In South Africa, the gel is used to make a jam and as an ingredient in food and drinks. Dry leaves are used in making herbal tea and the flowers are sucked for their sweet nectar. The leaf ash is used as an insect repellent.

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