More than 300 known species of aloe exist. Of the 300 species, only a few have medicinal properties, including Aloe perryi and Aloe ferox, with Aloe vera being the most potent. Other varieties of aloe such as Aloe variegata and Aloe polyphylla do not have medicinal benefits; however, they have interesting characteristics not present in other aloe varieties.
Also known as Barbados aloe, Aloe vera is the most widely known and popular of all aloe varieties. The plant grows from 1 to 4 feet tall, with spiked leaves spreading as wide as it grows tall. Aloe vera plants are adaptable to growing in containers and generally will not outgrow their container. Aloe vera is commonly used in creams, lotions and gels to treat sunburns, eczema, fungal infections, insect bites and dry or itchy scalp. Aloe vera gel has also been used internally as a laxative and for digestion problems.
The beautiful Aloe perryi plant comes from East Africa and has leaves that branch out to create a star-shaped plant, with red flowers protruding from the centre. The dried leaves are traditionally used for their medicinal properties. Although not yet considered an endangered species, the Aloe perryi is classified as "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Also known as Bitter Aloe or Cape Aloe, the South African variety has red spikes at the leaf edges, growing 5 to 6 feet tall. Unlike the sap of the Aloe vera which is clear, the sap of Aloe ferox is golden-brown in colour. The plant gets its name from the Latin word ferox, which means fierce, due to the sharp, prickly, spiked leaves and the fiery colour of its flowers.
Aloe variegata is also known as Partridge Breast Aloe and Tiger Aloe, and grows less than one foot tall. The uniqueness of this variety comes from the red flowers which grow up from the centre of the plant and the greenish-blue leaves which have white strips, resembling the pattern of tiger strips. Divisions of large plants are propagated in the late spring after flowering.
Aloe polyphylla is a unique variety of aloe that grows without a stem. The leaves grow in a spiral shape directly atop the soil, creating a rosette pattern. This aloe variety grows up to 2 1/2 feet wide, and is the most tolerant of being over-watered; however, it is less tolerant of high heat than other varieties. Aloe polyphylla is classified as an endangered species.
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