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Plant Highlight: Aloe tomentosa

August 2005

Aloes are widely distributed through Africa, as well as the Arabian peninsula and islands in the Indian Ocean (notably Madagascar). There are several hundred species altogether, but only a small number of these have flowers which are hairy, and all of these are found near the Red Sea. One of these is Aloe tomentosa, which comes from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The name “tomentosa”, which means “covered with wooly hairs”, refers to this feature.

Aloe tomentosa is a stemless plant, with large, fleshy green leaves which taper to a point. It typically has a single head, though occasional specimens with two or more heads may be encountered. The tubular flowers are produced in summer, mostly in July and August, in bunches at the ends of the many branches on the flower-stalk. The flower color is white, often with some green. The dense covering of wooly white hair gives them a most unusual appearance.

Plants are fairly good-sized, attaining a diameter of a meter or more (3 to 4 feet), but without a stem or offshoots they are not so large as to overwhelm an average-size garden. They are not difficult to grow if provided with good drainage, and they can withstand freezes if these are not too severe or prolonged. Plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden survived temperatures down to about 20º F (-6 or -7º C).