642 Aloe saponariaCommon Names: soap aloe, African aloe Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
Soap aloe grows in a stemless rosette, and produces little offset rosettes around its margin. The main rosette gets up to about a foot and a half tall and just as wide. The lance-shaped leaves are thick and succulent, pale green with white speckles, and 10-12 in (25.4-30.5 cm) long. The leaf margins are armed with sharp, dark brown teeth. Throughout much of the summer, soap aloe sends up a purplish branched stalk about 2 ft (0.6 m) tall, bearing showy tubular yellow, orange or red flowers.
Soap aloe is native to arid regions in eastern South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
CultureSoap aloe is very easy to grow in sandy or gravelly soils with good drainage. A single plant will expand considerably as it produces offsets. Divide the crowded clumps periodically. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Plants grown in partial shade usually look healthier and more succulent. Moisture: This aloe is very tolerant of drought, although the tips of the leaves may wither and curl during hot, dry periods. Supplemental watering will keep the leaves plump and juicy. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Soap aloe is damaged in hard freezes, but recovers quickly. Propagation: Soap aloe is easy to propagate by separating the little "pups" that develop around the outside of the main rosette.
Soap aloe is very salt tolerant, and a good choice for seaside gardens. It is also very drought tolerant. Soap aloe is perfect for rock or cactus gardens. Use it as a ground cover under palms, agaves or large cacti. Soap aloe makes a great container plant and will live for years in very little soil.
Hummingbirds are attracted to the showy flowers. The sap from the juicy leaves makes suds in water and can be used as a soap substitute.
There are about 300 species of Aloe, mostly from Africa. The aloes are sometimes confused with the agaves, but the latter (in the family Agavaceae) have fibrous leaves whereas the leaves of aloes are juicy and not at all fibrous. Aloe vera, the medicinal aloe, is well known for the soothing and healing properties of its sap.
The spiny leaf margins of soap aloe can snag pant legs and pierce little legs.
Steve Christman 2/20/00; updated 11/29/03, 2/17/05