Aloe ferox (Miller 1768)
AKA: Cape Aloe, Capealvyn, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, and Tap Aloe
Aloe ferox is a species of arborescent aloe indigenous to southern Africa. It is one of several Aloe species used to make bitter aloes, a purgative medication, and also yields a non-bitter gel that is used in cosmetics and topical medicines
Aloe ferox is indigenous to South Africa’s Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Lesotho. Its large natural range forms a near-continuous band across the southern Cape, from almost as far as Cape Town, eastwards as far as southern KwaZulu-Natal.
The plants are single-stemmed (nonbranched) and as such do not fit the current definition of “tree”. A plant will normally have only one flower stalk (inflorescence) in each season.
The leaves are broad and thick, containing a gel which is harvested for the production of many “Bitter Aloe” products. The leaves have prickles on them and, depending upon from which population the seed is harvested, the prickles can be completely covering the top and bottom surfaces or simply a small line of prickles on the bottom of the leaf. Almost all have strong teeth (prickles) on the leaf edges.
Flowers, born on branched spikes (racemes,) are normally a bright orange/red colour that adds beauty to the parched lands at the end of autumn/beginning of winter. The flower colour can range from red to pure white in some small populations in the Eastern Cape.
In The Garden
Aloe ferox is a wonderful garden plant. It adds structure and height to a garden as it will grow to a height of 5 meters or more. As it grows, the dried leaves which are no longer useful to the plant are carried on the stalk. In nature, these dead leaves serve as
protection against sunburn to the stem and as habitat for many wild creatures. It is up to the gardener as to whether to take the dead leaves off or not.
Taking Care of Aloe Ferox
This plant tends to be pest free and quite easy to grow in any semi-desert climate. It requires some water during the hottest periods. As with all succulents, keep watch for mealy bug and scale.
We are fortunate to have this Aloe growing throughout the Klein Karoo, usually in kloofs and at slightly higher elevations than other indigenous aloes such as Aloe micro stigma. At the coast, near Swellendam which is reported to be the most westerly population Aloe ferox grows near sea level.