Eden horticulturist Shirley Walker describes the beautiful January colour of these plants, and gives a few tips on growing similar plants at home.
The vibrant candelabra-like flower-heads of the bitter aloe (Aloe ferox) are once again reaching skywards in the Eden Project's Mediterranean Biome, bringing drama and colour to the South African Cape exhibit.
This magnificent plant is most famous for its medicinal properties and in many parts of South Africa the bitter, yellow juice found just beneath the skin of the large, succulent leaves has been harvested as a renewable resource for more than 200 years. The hard, black, resinous product known as Cape Aloes has laxative properties and the gel-like flesh from inside the leaves is used in cosmetic products. The bitter aloe is also reputed to have wound-healing properties similar to its well-known relative Aloe vera.
Growing your own aloes at home
Our aloes grow up to 3m high but if you would like to grow an aloe at home in your conservatory or greenhouse or even on a windowsill then Aloe vera is the plant for you. It is slow-growing and will measure less than a metre when fully grown at around ten years old. I have one at home and it makes an attractive feature on a plant stand in front of the hall window.
This evergreen perennial produces long spikes of tubular, greenish-yellow flowers in summer. It likes to be in full sun in a south or west facing, sheltered position. Grow your aloe in loam-based compost with added horticultural grit to improve the drainage and water moderately during the growing season, but sparingly in winter when the plant is dormant. Your aloe will benefit from being placed outdoors on a sunny patio in summer. Feed two or three times during the season with a balanced liquid fertiliser.
Aloes come in a variety of growth forms from small miniatures to tall, single-stemmed or branched trees and we have several different species on show in Eden's Biome, flowering spectacularly at different times of year.
More information on the Aloe ferox
Read more on our Aloe ferox plant profile page.