Aloe vera, or Aloe barbadensis, is a medicinal plant used throughout the world. According to the University of Arizona, the plant originates in Africa, although its exact origin is unknown due to ease in transplanting and its wide use as a medicine for the past 6,000 years. Aloe is mentioned in Chinese, Greek, Roman, Indian and Egyptian cultures, and is used today as a low-maintenance house plant.
Aloe appears as a short, stalked clump of triangular leaves, coming to a point at the tip. A succulent plant, meaning it absorbs water into its skin, the aloe vera plant has thick leaves, 8 to 10 inches in length, that are peppered with light green and grey specks. Flowers appear on the plant in the desert during the spring months. The flower stem is 2 to 3 feet tall, topped with yellow pedals.
Growing and Propagation
Aloe vera grows as a flattened stump, shooting out its leaves at an angle. The plant spread with underground roots, called rhizomes. The aloe vera plant is propagated by cutting away offsets, called pups, from the base of the plant when the pup is a few inches in height, using a sharp knife. The pup, once the wound of the cut has healed, is placed into new potting soil. Roots will shoot out of the cutting within a few weeks.
Aloe is best placed by a south or southwesterly facing window so that it gets a full day's sunlight. During summer, the plant needs soil that is completely soaked, then allowed to dry completely before watering again. Pots require draining holes to prevent standing water in the pot. According to the University of Arizona, a diluted bloom type fertilizer, with a combination of 10-40-10, is required in the spring.
Cleaning and Pests
Aloe vera requires dusting when kept indoors to prevent sunlight diffusion. Clemson University suggests using a soft cloth dipped in water to clean the top and bottom of the aloe vera leaves. A quick shower is also possible. The plants requires a regular inspection for insects, which are best removed using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
It is possible to cut aloe vera leaves and use the liquid inside as a medicinal aide. Aloe is traditionally used as a topical medicine, soothing and healing burns and dry skin. Aloe is also taken orally, although according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, this sometimes causes gastrointestinal problems.