Aloes

Aloes are made up of rosette(s) of succulent leaves that range in texture from rubbery and maleable to very stiff and liable to break if bent. The leaves range from rough textured to so smooth they are almost like polished plastic. Some are distichous (leaves in two planes only) either when young (commonly), or for the life of the plant (less commonly). Most have leaves with marginal teeth that often are very sharp, though some have miniscule, harmless teeth and some even have none (rare). Some have leaves that also have a lot of thorns on them (just like the marginal teeth, but called thorns if not along the leaf margins) either only when young, or sometimes for the life fo the plant. Aloe leaves can be a variety of amazing colors, though green or blue-green are the most common. Many are spotted, speckled, striped or blotchy.

Typical rosette (Aloe broomii); Aloe suprafoliata, so named because the leaves are stacked upon each other in a distichous fashion when young; Aloe lineata showing more than just typical juvenile distichous leaf pattern when young (both these aloes form normal rosettes as they mature)

Aloes compressa and inexpectata are species that have distichous leaf patterns their entire lives.

Aloe affinis showing rather typical, though extremely sharp, marginal teeth; Aloe betsileensis with smaller, dark red marginal teeth; young Aloe excelsa covered in thorns (most lose these as they mature).

Aloe striata, a common species and one of the few with no marginal teeth; Aloe parallelifolia has only a few itty bitty teeth near the base and tip of each leaf.

Internodes are the spaces between the leaf bases- Aloe speciosa with almost no internode space; Aloe striata with exaggerated internode space labeled; and juvenile Aloe arenicola, also showing exaggerated internodes.

Many aloes spread by growing suckers- some from the base of the plant as in the Aloe distans in first photo, and some at the end of long roots as in the Aloe maculata in second photo (where the suckers show up several feet or more from the main plant); Aloe brevifolia in third photo has suckered so much there is no way to tell which is the original plant.

Aloe with true spots, and one with spots/striping, and species with speckling.

Aloe belatulla hybrid with super-fine speckling; Aloe aculeata looks spotted, but really has thorns with white bases, so not really considered a spotted species.

Aloe rubroviolacea and glauca both have a glaucous bloom on the leaves (you can see where some has rubbed off) that is protective against harmful solar radiation.

Aloes are usually identified scientifically by their flowers (often small details in the flower morphology, which, frankly, is a bit beyond my expertise) as many Aloes otherwise can look alike. As you will see below, sometimes even flowering aloes can be impossible to tell apart. The following are some photos and terms used to describe flower shape and structures. I recommend becoming familiar with some of these terms if you want to be able to tell some similar aloes apart.