Aloe plants are members of the Lily family (Liliaceae) which means that they are relatives of tulips, Easter lilies and asparagus. Aloes prefer full sunlight and good-draining, sandy soil with low amounts of organic materials. This succulent adapts to different soil types as long as they do not hold much water. Aloes are commonly found as houseplants in cooler climates since they suffer damage at 32 degrees F. Plant aloes in clay containers and place them in a sunny location indoors. Do not overwater them and they will grow well if you ignore them.
Aloes are succulent, perennial plants with fat leaves that store water. The dusty green leaves are spear-like and grow thicker at the rosette-shaped crown. These leaves can grow over 36 inches long, contain clear thick gel inside, and are covered with soft spines along the edges. Aloes do not usually blossom in cool climates. When the aloe does flower, it produces a 36-inch stalk with drooping tube-like blooms in yellow or orange during the spring.
Aloes have been used for thousands of years for medicine. Apply aloe gel on burns, blisters, scrapes, acne and skin irritations. Aloe gel promotes healing and prevents infections. Aloe was once used for constipation, but is no longer recommended for ingestion. Harvest aloe leaves by removing the older ones first. Cut the leaves down the center and scrape out the gel. Aloes are also used in containers and rock gardens.
Aloe is safe when used as a topical ointment, but do not apply to deep wounds. Aloe may cause allergic reactions in the form of a skin rash. Stop using if a rash occurs. Ingesting aloe may cause severe cramps and diarrhea. Never drink it while pregnant since it causes uterine contractions and possible miscarriage.
Aloe has a long history of economic use throughout Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The record of the origins of aloe has been lost, but it is thought to have been in the tropical and subtropical areas of the Mediterranean and Africa. Aloe vera is an ancient hybrid developed in the ancient world.
There are over 300 types of aloe plants. Some of these succulents include angelica aloe, woody aloe, chestnut aloe, dolomite aloe, coastal aloe, alpine aloe, striped aloe and small-flowered aloe. All varieties of aloe are long-lived perennials.