Save Money: Grow Your Own Aloe

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20151220AYou could have knocked me over with a feather: my local supermarket now sells leaves of aloe vera (Aloe vera) in the produce section! Of course, I know that aloe vera sap can used to reduce the pain and accelerate the healing of scrapes, minor burns and cuts — and more than a thousand other uses — but I can’t get over the idea of people actually buying individual aloe leaves! Don’t they know that aloe vera (also called true aloe, Barbados aloe or first aid plant) is so easy to grow in the average home that for the price of two individual leaves they could buy a plant that would supply them with all the aloe leaves they could ever possibly use?!

I’ve been growing aloe vera since… well, pretty much forever. Certainly a good 30 years. My mother plant (which I still have) has moved with me 4 times, putting up with more negligence than pretty much any other plant. I just give it a moderately sunny window (it will grow in shade too, but doesn’t much like it), water it from time to time, and it just keeps on growing. And I know dozens of people who could tell similar stories.

One Plant, Two Forms

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A juvenile: note the fan-shaped habit, the spotted leaves and the numerous offsets.

Of course, my adult aloe looks little like the tiny plant a neighbor gave me all those years ago. No one ever seems to mention this, but aloe vera has a juvenile form and a mature form.

Juvenile plants are small and fan-shaped, with leaves rarely more than 8 inches (20 cm) in length. The leaves are almost round in cross-section and highly spotted with pale green to white dots. There are only a few teeth near the tip of the leaf and they are soft to the touch. Also, juvenile aloes produce copious quantities of offsets (babies). I used to pot them up individually and give them to friends and family.

20151220C

Mature aloe: rosette shape, gray-green spot-free leaves, no offsets.

When the plant reaches maturity, though, it switches from a fan shape to a distinctly spiraling rosette. The leaves are much longer and wider and are no longer tubular, but flat or even concave on top, rounded below. The spots disappear and the plant, originally medium green, becomes gray-green in color. The leaf edges now bear lots of fairly wicked-looking spikes over almost their entire length. Plus, the plant stops producing offsets. Yep, no more babies! Eventually the plant starts to bloom. A single thick stalk bearing dozens of tubular yellow flowers will appear from one side of the plant, usually in winter, and lasts several weeks. Once it reaches maturity, your aloe will begin to bloom regularly, although not necessarily every year. (Note that aloes, unlike their New World look-alikes, the agaves, don’t die after blooming.)

Buy A Plant, Not a Leaf

So why buy individual leaves? Buy an aloe vera plant instead. You’ll find it almost impossible to kill (look here for more information on how to grow one) and a single plant will give you a lifetime supply of leaves.

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