Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 894 Aloe ferox

Common Names: Cape aloe, bitter aloe, tap aloe Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)

Drought tolerant Cape aloe is at home in succulent gardens.


Aloe ferox is a palmlike succulent with a single 6-10 ft (1.8-3.1 m) upright unbranched woody stem crowned with a dense rosette of 50-60 3 ft (0.9 m) long thick and fleshy leaves. The leaves have sharp reddish brown spines on the margins and smaller spines on their top and bottom surfaces. They are dull green, usually with a reddish tinge. Old, dried leaves invariably persist on the stem, clothing it with a dense rattling brown skirt. The inflorescence is a candelabra of tubular orange red flowers standing 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) above the leaves. The flower stalk may have 5-10 branches and the individual flowers are about 1 in (2.5 cm) long and densely packed in thick brushlike clusters on the stalks.

Some species of aloes have been hybridized and one such cross between A. ferox and A. speciosa is commonly cultivated.

The aloes, in the lily family, are superficially similar but completely unrelated to the agaves, in a family of their own. Agaves have fibrous leaves as opposed to the juicy, succulent leaves of aloes, and agaves are native to the New World, whereas aloes come from the Old World.


Cape aloe, Aloe ferox is another of the many strange and wonderful plants that are endemic (restricted) to the Cape Region of South Africa. Within 470 square miles in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope there are more endemic plant species (157) than any other region of comparable area in the world. In its native habitat, Cape aloe grows in dry rocky places and in scrub.


Most of the aloes, and this one is no exception, do best in a very well drained, infertile soil. Cape aloe should be fertilized no more than once a year. Light: Full sun. Indoor plants should get an average of 1000 foot-candles over a 12 hour day. Moisture: Water moderately during the growing season, letting the soil dry out between liberal waterings. Water less during the aloe's dormant period. Cape aloe is relatively tolerant of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Cape aloe is a little more frost hardy than many of the other aloes. Propagation: Propagate Cape aloe from seed or stem cuttings.


Cape aloe is grown in cactus and rock gardens in tropical and subtropical climates, and is particularly popular in southern California. Elsewhere it is grown as a container plant, moved out to the patio in summer and back indoors in winter.

Cape aloe is one of the sources of the purgative "bitter aloes", a strong laxative not to be confused with "aloe vera", the juice derived from Aloe vera and used for skin care.


The genus Aloe is a very diverse group of more than 300 mostly spiny succulents. Some are treelike, others a lot like cacti, and all have leaves arranged in rosettes, with or without a stem. They occur naturally only in southern Africa, the Cape Verde Islands, Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula. The common name, "aloe", is pronounced with two syllables, but the botanical name is pronounced with three syllables.

Steve Christman 12/21/00; updated 11/29/03

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Aloe species profiled on Floridata:

Aloe ferox

( Cape aloe, bitter aloe, tap aloe )

Aloe saponaria

( soap aloe, African aloe )

Aloe vera

( medicinal aloe, burn plant, Barbados aloe, unguentine cactus )

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