Q: I want to grow aloe vera plants to use in making some lotions. My friend has an aloe plant in her house that is doing so well that it has flowers. Mine is just sitting there doing nothing. The only difference I can see is that hers has white spots on the leaves, and mine doesn't. What can I do to get it to grow better?
A: If your friend will let you take an offset (a small side plant) from her aloe, you can try growing it. The white spots are an indication that hers is a different kind of aloe and not an indication that it is growing better than yours.
There are hundreds of species and a lot of cultivars of aloe, and many different aloes are called aloe vera. This is ironic because "vera" is Latin for "true," and it is hard to figure out what is a true aloe vera. Aloes, and especially the ones we call aloe vera, have been used as medicinal plants for thousands of years, and during that time, they have been transported all over the world. In modern times, the various wild populations of this plant were rediscovered by plant explorers who thought they were finding new kinds of aloes. Each rediscovered group got a new name, and the confusion was magnified.
You can find aloe vera extracts added to beverages, lotions and ointments. Consumers seem to like to see the name "aloe vera" on product labels. The actual amount of aloe vera in the product can vary from under 0.5% to more than 50%, so reading the label is probably a good idea before deciding which product to buy.
There are two main products derived from aloe plants: the clear gel from the interior of the leaf and the yellow or white latex from the skin of the leaf. In 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that products containing aloe latex compounds be removed from the market.
If you grind up the whole leaf for your ointments, you will get some of the latex in the ointment. A chemical in the latex called aloin might cause cancer.
There is a little evidence that the gel may help relieve some symptoms for psoriasis and some rashes, but there is not much evidence of help for any other uses. If a person is allergic to garlic, onions or tulips, they may be allergic to aloe. No matter how you decide to use aloe, talk to your doctor first.
Aside from the possible household uses, aloes are great houseplants and good landscape plants if grown in the right conditions. Since the aloe leaf stores water, it is obviously a plant that comes from dry environments. Aloe vera grows outdoors in zones 9-11 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map, and it need sandy, well-drained soil. It grows well in the sun but can grow in an area that is shady for several hours a day.
If you are going to grow it in a pot, use a clay pot so the roots will dry out a little between waterings. Plastic pots can hold water too long. Wet roots will start to rot. Indoors, they need to be placed near the warmest sunny window. They don't need a lot of fertilizer. Use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring when they start to send out new leaves.
They will often send out new offsets, also called pups, around the base of the plant. The pups can be cut off and replanted. Let the cut end dry off a day or two before replanting so that it can callous over.
Watch my video on aloes at http://greenerview.com/videos.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: alsampang at Pixabay