The aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) has been used medicinally for over 6,000 years in virtually every part of the world. Native to Africa, the plant is classified as a succulent, which means that it stores large amounts of water in its foliage in the event of a drought. A 180 varieties of aloe vera are available according to the University of Arizona.
Aloe Vera plants have a shallow root system that grows laterally. The root system was probably developed to utilize any available drops of desert rainwater that sank into the surrounding soil. When grown as a houseplant, it is advised to pot the plant in a shallow container that offers extreme width instead of depth to accommodate the unique spreading root system. The roots are rhizomes which store nutrients and water for the plant.
The foliage of the aloe vera forms a rosette that is rather flat in appearance. The leaves are long, sharp spikes that grow up to 10 inches in length. The leaves are a grayish-green in appearance, with a slight mottling. A 3-foot-tall flower stem is produced in the spring, having yellow, tubular flowers.
The aloe vera propagates itself easily by producing smaller plants off the parent plant's rhizomes. The tiny plants are known as "pups." The plants live in vast colonies when grown in the wild because of the spread of the pups around the parent plant. Widespread propagation occurs from the seeds that the plant produces after flowering. It is, however, difficult for a home gardener to grow aloe vera plants from seed.
The aloe vera plant will easily perish if subjected to temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant prefers a dry, hot climate to grow well and propagate. It will only flower if the desert conditions are ideal.
In the winter months the aloe vera goes dormant and ceases growing. During its dormancy, the plant requires very little water. It is recommended to water only once per month. When spring arrives, the plant breaks its dormancy and begins to grow again.