Every plant is special in its own way, but Aloe polyphylla is unquestionably unique. Commonly called the spiral aloe, many-leaved aloe, or (in its native zone) kroonaalwyn or lekhala kharetsa, this aloe is a stemless flowering succulent that represents mathematical perfection.
The spiral aloe belongs to the large Asphodelaceae botanical family, which incorporates about 40 genera, and it comes as no surprise that it’s a member of the Aloe genus.
It doesn’t take much effort to fall in love with the spiral aloe — just a single glance at a picture will usually do the trick. Unfortunately for gardeners who would almost be willing to commit a crime to get their hands on an Aloe polyphylla plant, these plants are in very high demand and rather rare.
If you’re lucky enough to acquire one, you will of course want to know everything there is to know about giving the spiral aloe the best possible care. If you’re not, this guide can still give you something to dream about.
About the Spiral Aloe
- The spiral aloe, Aloe polyphylla, is is a stemless succulent from the aloe genus. While this plant can produce absolutely stunning large flowers, usually red or salmon colored, that sit atop sturdy stems, the spiral aloe is most famous for its hypnotizing spiral shape.
- The spiral aloe is native to the small kingdom of Lesotho — the enclave completely surrounded by South African territory that you have probably seen on a map, even if you didn’t know what it was called. It’s been honored with the status of national flower in that country. The spiral aloe plant can also natively be found in nearby regions in South Africa. Outside of its warm native growing zone, Aloe polyphylla can be grown outside in the garden (given the right climate), or kept as a houseplant.
- Anyone who is mesmerized by the spiral aloe’s beauty will immediately understand that others love the plant, too — and historically, a little too much. Aloe polyphylla was removed from its native area in such large numbers that the spiral aloe nearly went extinct, and was designated an endangered species. Removing specimens from their natural habitat became a criminal offense (along with buying them from street vendors, so watch out!), and thanks to enthusiastic conservation effort, the spiral aloe is now no longer considered endangered. Having said that, it is essential to only procure spiral aloe specimens from ethical and reputable nurseries. If you have a spiral aloe in your care, you can play your own part in the protection of this amazing species by propagating the plant.
- The math nerds among our readers will instantly have recognized the fact that the spiral aloe indeed features a Fibonacci spiral. Those who don’t know about this phenomenon would be encouraged to learn about it, because it makes Aloe polyphylla even cooler. In short, this kind of spiral is a wonderful example of the golden ratio, and the same pattern repeats across nature in wildly divergent contexts — you’ll find your spiral aloe in the curves of a nautilus shell, but also in the shape of spiral galaxies.
- Interestingly, the spiral found in a spiral allow can grow clockwise or counter-clockwise.
- The Aloe genus is a rather large one, counting over 500 unique species. Some aloes are used for medicinal purposes, often applied topically to fight sunburn or to improve the skin, and others are eaten. The spiral aloe is special; nurture it, and don’t break the perfect spiral but breaking off leaves.
- Pet owners should be aware that the spiral aloe is toxic to both cats and dogs, and should be kept away from pets — not just to protect your pets from the plant, but also vice versa.
- Although spiral aloe plants are relatively resistant to pests and plant diseases, they can be pestered by mealybugs and scale sometimes. Anyone who has a spiral aloe in their care should remain vigilant at all times.
Spiral Aloe Features: An Overview
- Aloe polyphylla is a stemless member of the aloe genus that is famous for growing its leaves in a unique — and uniquely perfect — spiral pattern. This plant can produce striking flowers, but when grown as a houseplant, it is less likely to grace you with its glorious bloom.
- In a proper growing environment, mature spiral aloe plants can grow to be 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall and develop a spread of 24 inches (60 centimeters). Plant enthusiasts should be aware that the characteristic spiral pattern will not begin to emerge until the spiral aloe has grown enough to have a spread of at least eight inches (20 centimeters).
- The spiral aloe features fleshy and large spear-shaped leaves, which have a gray-green or silver-green appearance. The edges can have ocher tones. Like other aloes, Aloe polyphylla has fine serrations around the edges of its leaves.
- Aloe polyphylla flowers at the beginning of the summer period in its native region. When it flowers, a large and thick inflorescence emerges from the very center of the plant, and multiple stems may be visible. The large flowers sit atop this fleshy stem, and are red, salmon, pink, or orange/yellow in color.
- When growing Aloe polyphylla as a houseplant, gardeners will have to be especially patient if they are hoping to see the plant’s blooms. Only mature spiral aloe plants will flower, and only given the right growing environment.
- The spiral aloe plant can unabashedly be described as a high-maintenance plant — unless it has the exact cultural conditions it needs, it will soon die. This is a large part of the reason why it was once endangered. Gardeners would be advised to assess whether they can offer the right growing conditions for the spiral aloe before they attempt to acquire one; allowing such a beautiful plant to die would be such a shame.
Growing Spiral Aloe Plants
The spiral aloe is a high-maintenance plant that is difficult to care for; it is highly sensitive to its environmental conditions, and will quickly begin to protest if it is grown outside of its native zone. Can you provide a spiral aloe with a suitable home? Learn about its care first, and embark on the long and arduous path of finding one later.
The spiral aloe plant needs plenty of bright sunlight to thrive, but should be kept safe from the scorching afternoon sun. When grown as a houseplant, Aloe polyphylla can be placed in a spot where it will be able to enjoy bright and direct sunlight for much of the day, while receiving some shade in the afternoon when the sun is at its brightest and hottest. This usually means that the spiral aloe should be placed near west or south facing windows.
Given the fact that the spiral aloe comes from Africa, gardeners will not be shocked to learn that these succulents are not frost hardy at all and will die if exposed to freezing winter temperatures for any length of time. They may, however, be quite surprised to hear that spiral aloe plants don’t appreciate temperatures that exceed 80 °F (27 °C).
In addition to these basic requirements, spiral aloe plants should also be kept away from strong winds (easy to do if you’re growing one as a houseplant) and high humidity levels. If you live in a more humid climate, installing a dehumidifier will be a must if you plan to grow and care for a spiral aloe.
Aloe polyphylla naturally grows sandy soils at high altitudes, and should be placed in a similar soil designed especially with succulents in mind when it is grown inside the home. Adding a sprinkling of pumice stones to the potting mix ensures that your spiral aloe can receive the air its root system needs.
These plants do not need to be fertilizer, as they are used to growing in poor soil, and should not be pruned either. However, Aloe polyphylla will need to be repotted occasionally — once every two or three years should be sufficient.
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- Aloe juvenna is a small, clump-forming succulent, with erect stem up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall and branching at the base.
- The leaves are bright green (reddish to brown in full sun), toothy-margined and flecked with cream-white prominent spots.
- The inflorescence is unbranched spike, up to 10 inches (25 cm) tall with bright coral-pink to orange-red flowers with yellow-green mouth.
- Aloe is a very forgiving plant, and a well-grown plant can be quite beautiful. As with all succulents, it’s essential that Aloe is never allowed to sit in stagnant water, and the plant should be carefully monitored to watch for signs of overwatering.
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- Native to southern Africa and relatives of Aloe, plants in the Gasteria genus are named after the red, sack- or stomach-like shape of the flower.
- Stemless, with spotted thick leaves arranged in pairs or spirals, gasterias are typically used as houseplants and tolerate low light levels. Cultivated gasterias are unlikely to bear flowers, which hang from arching stems in summer, but you may be lucky.
- Gasteria ‘Flow’ is a striking variety, with dark green, triangular-shaped leaves with white spots. It’s perfect for growing as a houseplant, where it will require little maintenance.
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Watering the Spiral Aloe
Most succulents don’t need much water to thrive and some are even extremely drought tolerant. The spiral aloe is no exception. Spiral aloes not only survive in dry conditions but actually require them, a fact that applies to the relative humidity in the air as well as the soil.
Overwatering this succulent could cause many issues — including root rot, which could kill your rare spiral aloe!
To ensure that your spiral aloe plant doesn’t get too much water but also has plenty to thrive, let the soil dry out before watering it. This applies to your plant especially in the fall and winter, during which time you’ll want to water your spiral aloe even less. Planning to grow a spiral aloe outside? It’s best to grow it in a container if you live in a place with a lot of rainfall, so that you can move your Aloe polyphylla indoors when it rains.
One of the biggest mistakes that people new to growing a spiral aloe make is overwatering it. Avoid this at all costs, and you’ll make sure that your spiral aloe lives a longer and healthier life.
Propagating the Spiral Aloe
Propagating the plants in the aloe genus is a little different from how you’d propagate other plants. Aloe plants will often grow offshoots that are often called pups, which can be used for propagation. Like many other aloe plants, the spiral aloe will have the highest chance to succeed when propagated through pups. Not only is this method extremely reliable, but it is also easy to do, even if you are new to propagating.
Though there are other methods of propagating a spiral aloe, like through leaves and seeds, they are much more difficult and often end up failing. This is why propagating through pups is the most popular method for propagating aloe plants.
Want to know exactly how to propagate a spiral aloe through pups? The steps you’ll need to take when propagating your spiral aloe are:
- Mature spiral aloes will grow pups around their base, which are perfect for propagation. Look for a healthy pup that you’ll want to propagate; even one with only a couple of leaves will do just fine.
- To remove the pups from your spiral aloe, you’ll need take your plant, including the pups and roots, outside of the pot. Once you have the plant separated from the pot, it’s time to remove the pups. Some pups may have their own roots, while others won’t — spiral aloe pups without their own roots won’t take long to grow roots after planted. Cut off pups with a sharp and clean knife, taking special care not to harm any roots. Get rid of any dried leaves or brown roots.
- Though pups that already have roots won’t need to be left out to callus over, this step is incredibly important for spiral aloe pups without any roots, as it will highly increase their chance of making it. To let a spiral aloe pup callus over, leave it in a cool, dark, and dry spot for a day or two.
- Get a pot with holes for drainage for your spiral aloe pups, four inches or so in diameter will often be enough. Sand, rock grit, and perlite all make good choices for soil. Use a pencil or a small stick to make a hole in the middle of the soil, this is where you’ll plant your spiral aloe. You’ll want to place the pup just above the soil line, pressing the soil down after.
- For the first few days, your new spiral aloe will need deep watering, though you’ll still only want to water it once the soil is completely dry.
Those who are fortunate enough to acquire a Aloe polyphylla plant may be a little intimated — this isn’t just a high-maintenance plant, but also a rare one. With the right love and care, though, your spiral aloe can absolutely thrive, to the point where you can propagate it and help preserve this wonderful species.