Over 180 species of aloe exist, but the most well-known is aloe vera. Aloe vera is a common houseplant and is also used for medicinal purposes, mostly to soothe minor skin irritations and burns. When leaves are removed, the plant forms a rubbery seal over the wound to protect itself from water loss. While usually propagated from suckers or cuttings in the home, the life cycle of an aloe plant in the wild is similar to other succulents.
The over 180 species of aloe plants vary in size and shape from the short stalks and clump shape of aloe vera to plants with trunks that resemble small trees. Aloe vera, one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world, originated in Africa. References to aloe vera exist in Egyptian, Roman and Chinese cultures. The Spanish are responsible for first bringing this plant to South America.
Aloe vera plants feature bright red or yellow tubular flowers on long stalks that grow from the middle of the plant. The flowers do not have a fragrance but produce a large quantity of nectar.
In the wild in their native Africa, sunbirds commonly visit aloe plants and act as pollinators. Baboons sometimes collect the flowers of some species in order to suck the nectar from them. Bees are not commonly attracted to aloe flowers, but may sometimes visit them.
Most aloe species are incapable of self-pollination and must have other aloe plants nearby for cross-pollination. The flower structure of the aloe plants prevents them from fertilizing themselves; they ripen and disperse pollen before the pollen receptors of the plant are ready to receive it.
Once fertilized, most aloes produce dry fruit thar splits open when mature to release the seeds. Aloe seeds have winglike structures, which allow them to be carried by the wind to new growing sites. Aloe plants also produce suckers at their base, which can grow into new plants when separated and replanted.