Aloes Show Spectacular Flowers


I love the way aloes brighten Southern California gardens this time of year. Shown above is the most widely grown aloe, Aloe arborescens. The location is about halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, in Laguna Beach. This is an artist’s enclave, and not surprisingly, aloe flowers against blue sea and sky are a popular subject for paintings.


Depending on the species, aloe flower spikes can range from several inches in height to several feet. The blossoms most often are orange, but also may be crimson, cream, rose, yellow or combinations.


Buds along the flower spike open from the bottom up. When these are tightly closed at the top and full-blown at the bottom, the stalk looks fringed and conical. Aloe ferox (above), with 3-foot, candelabra-like stalks, is among the most spectacular. Those of equally dramatic Aloe marlothii (below) are more horizontal—they remind me of feathers.


Aloes are succulents, plants that by definition store water in fleshy leaves and stems in order to survive periods of drought. Aloes, which are from Madagascar, the Middle East and South Africa, grow readily in frost-free regions that have minimal rainfall. Too much moisture can cause the trunks and roots to rot. Aloes are not fussy about soil, as long as it is fast-draining. In my north San Diego garden, aloes thrive in nutrient-poor decomposed granite soil. A rule of thumb is to let soil go nearly dry between waterings.


Aloe vaombe (above) has upright crimson blooms above large leaves that are dark green to brownish-red, and that are lined with white teeth.


Rather than spires, the blooms of Aloe striata (coral aloe, above) form branching clusters.

All aloes have gel-filled leaves. The best known aloe, Aloe vera (below), often is grown as a windowsill plant in kitchens because the gel soothes minor burns. It is not the only medicinal aloe, merely one of the most juicy.


Aloes are beautiful in combination with other succulents. The colorful bed shown below has a carpet of variegated Portulacaria afra behind Aloe cameronii in bloom.


Aloes also are wonderful for wildfire-prone areas. When arranged around a garden’s perimeter, they can serve as natural firebreak. In fact, a stand of Aloe arborescens protected the house on the cover of my book, Designing with Succulents, from burning during the wildfires of 2007.

About Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin gardens on "an inhospitable half acre" in Escondido, CA, near San Diego. She is an award-winning photojournalist and artist with hundreds of articles and columns to her credit. Debra's books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.

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20 Responses to Aloes Show Spectacular Flowers

  1. buedamau February 25, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    so many beautiful pics and aloes! the first kind is very common here in portugal: they are beautiful but kind of invasive, on small scale of course…
    i didn´t know Aloe marlothii which is gorgeous and a lot different from the more common ones, i must look for one of those… ;p

    Aloes are Old World plants—they’ve grown in Portugal a lot longer than here in the Americas. I’d love to know who first introduced them to Southern California! Debra

  2. Nancy Bond February 25, 2009 at 10:21 am #

    Wow! Those are spectacular! You’re right, they’re even more stunning against those beautiful blues.

    Blue and orange do combine beautifully in the garden. Another great combination (using succulents) is orange Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ underplanted with blue Senecio mandraliscae. And Nancy, I checked out your website, and your own photography is spectacular! Debra

  3. Nicole February 25, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    Those are some gorgeous aloes. The form on the Aloe vaombe is very architectural and the blue and coral of the ferox is gorgeous. Right now my aloe vera, maculata and ciliaris are in bloom. I am actually converting people to aloes when they see my maculata in bloom-most people here in the Caribbean only know of aloe vera.
    Last May, in San Francisco, I got some small A. cameroni, marlothii and aculeata-there is only so much I can carry in my hand luggage. I can’t wait for the marlothii to look anything like that pic. On my next trip I want to get a couple plicatilis.

    Aloe plicatilis, which has leaves that resemble tongue depressors (they’re arranged like fans on the ends of limbs), makes a great little tree. Remember to keep its soil dry in summer and wet in winter. I love your website, Nicole—and it’s very cool to hear about the aloes you grow in Trinidad!Aloe plicatilis, which has leaves that resemble tongue depressors (they’re arranged like fans on the ends of limbs), makes a great little tree. Remember to keep its soil dry in summer and wet in winter. I love your website, Nicole—and it’s very cool to hear about the aloes you grow in Trinidad! Debra

  4. Yvonne February 25, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Ah, plant lust. These pictures make me want to move to California. As it is, we make due by growing hardy and non-hardy succulents in containers here in the great white north.

    Oh! Your photos of your winter garden (in Ontario, Canada) on your blog are so gorgeous! And hey, every region has its challenges. Here in SoCA, another winter with minimal rainfall means water rationing is a near certainty. Just yesterday I noticed another parking strip that had been replaced by fake turf—which strikes me as both funny and sad. Debra

  5. Les February 25, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    Who knew that tired old plant sitting in the kitchen window could be so lovely. My favorite shown is A. marlothii, it reminds me Crocosmia flowers, but only showier.

    You’re right—the flower form of crocosmia does indeed suggest the aloe’s, in miniature. Debra

  6. ESP February 25, 2009 at 11:21 pm #

    Hi Debra.
    I want to say congratulations on your book. I got it for Christmas and it has been loitering (in a good way) around my chair ever since. I have been inspired by so many of the images in it, finding myself creating more and more succulent and cacti beds…(perfect for Texas). I have also found it a great reference for identifying some of my succulents that had lost or discarded tags!Great work. Tell me you are going to do a follow up?


    Hi, ESP! Thanks for asking—my next book “Succulents in Containers” is a Timber Press spring, 2010 release. Hey, I see from your blog you’re in east Austin. On March 18 I’m giving my “Designing with Succulents” presentation to San Antonio’s cactus and succulent society (if you’re interested, email me, Your blog is a hoot…I love the tight shot of the red-toothed agave paired with a photo of Bella Lugosi: “So, that is vere I left them!” Debra

  7. Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker" February 26, 2009 at 3:54 am #

    Hi Debra,
    I was hoping to introduce myself to you at the GWA convention last year but missed the opportunity. I enjoyed your book and often take it to garden design meetings with my clients when discussing succulents in the garden! Great work.

    The photos of the aloes in your post are fantastic and motivate me to add some to my garden…I have the room. Thanks for the information as well.
    Shirley Bovshow

    I’m so glad you like my book—quite a compliment coming from a landscape designer/TV show host! I’m sorry we missed each other at the Garden Writers symposium. I love your use of stone in your own garden, and the photos on your blog of its sunlit grasses and phormiums. Let us know when you add some aloes, OK? Debra

  8. Saxon Holt February 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    Oh jeez, that’s right ! the Aloes are blooming down your way. Nice shots. wish I were there. and despite my brain saying we need rain, the blue skies make me want to go to the beach

    Indeed, aloes in bloom are prettier than runway models, and as photogenic. It also helps that this time of year the light is slanted, and our rain-washed days crisp and bright. Debra

  9. Michelle March 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    Fabulous photos of some of my most favorite plants !
    Wonderfully rich colors , forms and textures.
    Love those Aloes !

    Thank you, Michelle! I loved your exhibit at the 2008 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, btw—you do terrific design. (And no wonder you love aloes, you use those same colors beautifully). Debra

  10. Jenny January 11, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Thanks for visiting my blog and directing me to your wonderful posting of aloes. I am in love with these plants; they are everywhere around us. Now in La Jolla for a few days I know we are going to see even more. Plan to go to the Botanical Garden today, but as yet have not found any more gardens to visit. It would be a dream to garden here. I saw ESP had mentioned your book on succulents in post. Must look for “Succulents in Containers” as I am taking a few back with me to Texas. T

  11. Bren January 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    WOW… the blue skies sure do work its’ magic on those fabulous blooms! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Germi February 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    You do it EVERY time! You make me want to drop everything and RUN to buy more succulents – and when I get the aloe jones – watch out!
    You are a wonder of hort-inspiration, Debra! We are so lucky to have you literally at our fingertips – thank you for such great aloe beauty shots, fab info, and for being the best succulent guru a girl could have!

    Ha! And you make me LOL every time, Ivette. I’m glad I could show your lovely garden in “Designing with Succulents.” Debra

  13. tracy-lee February 20, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    I live on a farm and we have an amazing variety of the most beautiful aloes, we are attempting to tame our garden and would like to know if you could help us to contact people who also appreciate the beauty of the aloes and would be interested in buying aloes and seeds.
    thanking you

    Hi, Tracy-Lee — Where are you located, and do you have a website? Contact me directly from my website, Regards, Debra Lee Baldwin

  14. tracy-lee February 20, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    could we send you some photos of our aloes

  15. Gardening Succs January 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    I absolutely LOVE these photos, Debra. You make me want to escape frosty NorCal (though we’ve had 70s lately… weird weather this year) and speed down to Laguna Beach! Much love, Katie

  16. karen January 20, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Oh i just LOVE blooming succulents, and these aloe shots are all so superb! I’m a bit dissapointed that none of my A. ciliaris bloomed this year…last winter I had several gorgeous spikes but this year, nada!
    karen recently posted…Random 5 Friday: 1/17/14My Profile

  17. Lee January 20, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    These plants are so spectacular especially when in bloom. My husband and I recently returned from traveling and experieced some of the most beautiful Aloe and Bromeliad plants in all their glory. You are so fortunate to be able to view these on a regualr basis. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Robín January 25, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Mathematical geometrical beauty.
    Robín recently posted…Los números naturales o enterosMy Profile

  19. Robín February 2, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    This is for Fran Sorin; please be so kind to send it to her. I get a message : “You may have disabled javascript” and cannot post it ; but my javascript is enabled. I think there is something wrong with the scripts she uses in this web page.

    Good idea; though i am myself too shy to do it here in northern Spain; those people that are not could do it at times; also as a way to get rid of shyness. In fact i did something very similar. I live in Bilbao in northern Spain, met a girl who lives in Sevilla via her blog, and writes poetry, bought via Internet some plants in a french nursery not far from where i used to live long years ago and ordered to send them to her home in southern Spain. She liked the plants and she liked the present though i have not met her yet.
    Robín recently posted…Los números naturales o enterosMy Profile

  20. Fran Sorin February 3, 2014 at 2:34 am #

    Thanks for persisting in getting your comment posted. Am checking out the issue with javascript.

    And thanks for sharing your story. You connected with this woman’s work and followed your intuition of sharing and generosity. What a beautiful way to do it by sending plants to her. I hope your story will inspire others not to *censor* their ‘generosity muscles’ when their intuition whispers to them to ‘connect through an act of kindness’.

    Participating in Give A Flower, Get A Smile is a wonderful way for shy individuals to step forward and work through their shyness. For a shy person, giving flowers to strangers on the street is an Act of Courage- and worthwhile one! Warmly, Fran