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Aloe ferox - Mill.

Common Name Cape Aloe, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, Cape Aloe, Alligator Jaw Aloe
Family Xanthorrhoeaceae
USDA hardiness 9-11
Known Hazards The sap of Aloe species contains anthraquinones. These compounds have several beneficial medicinal actions, particularly as a laxative, and many species of Aloe are thus employed in traditional medicine. Whilst safe in small doses and for short periods of time, anthraquinones do have potential problems if used in excess. These include congestion and irritation of the pelvic organs[ 299 ]. Long term use of anthraquinone laxatives may also play a role in development of colorectal cancer as they have genotoxic potential, and tumorigenic potential[ 299 ].
Habitats Abundant on arid rocky hillsides up to 1,000 metres altitude[ 299 ]. Also found in grassy fynbos and on the edges of the karoo. It grows both in the open and in bushy areas[ 295 ].
Range South Africa - Cape Province.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (5 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Full sun
Aloe ferox Cape Aloe, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, Cape Aloe, Alligator Jaw Aloe

Aloe ferox Cape Aloe, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, Cape Aloe, Alligator Jaw Aloe


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Cape Aloe. Aloe ferox. Other known names are Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, Cape Aloe, and Alligator Jaw Aloe. Indigenous to South Africa but is now widely cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics, Cape aloe (Aloe ferox) is a tall, single-stem, succulent evergreen tree. It has thick and fleshy leaves arranged in rosette, with spines along the leaf margins. The flowers are red or orange in color in multi-branched inflorescence. Cape aloe grows from 2 - 4 meters, occasionally to 5 meters. Like other aloe species, it is widely used in traditional and conventional medicine and as an ornamental plant and often potted in cooler climates. It is used to make bitter aloes and it yields a non-bitter gel used in cosmetics. The gel from the leaves is used for treating skin conditions like burns, wounds, abrasions, and irritations. It also is used in scalp to promote hair growth and prevent dandruff. In South Africa, the gel is used to make a jam and as an ingredient in food and drinks. Dry leaves are used in making herbal tea and the flowers are sucked for their sweet nectar. The leaf ash is used as an insect repellent. Cape aloe is drought-tolerant. It is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Aloe ferox is an evergreen Shrub growing to 3 m (9ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Birds, bees. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Aloe candelabrum A.Berger. Aloe galpinii Baker Aloe horrid Haw. Aloe muricata Haw. Aloe pallancae Gu

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves
Edible Uses: Tea

The gel from the leaves has been used in South Africa to make a jam that tastes like watermelon jam[ 299 ]. It is also gaining importance as a refreshing and nutritive ingredient in food and drinks[ 299 ]. Dry leaves are harvested and crushed, after which a decoction is used to make a herbal tea[ 299 ]. The flowers are sucked for their sweet nectar[ 301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antiarthritic  Poultice  Purgative  Refrigerant  Skin

In southern Africa the thickened, red leaf exudate, called 'Cape aloe', is used as a purgative in human and veterinary medicine and fresh exudate is applied in cases of ophthalmia and syphilis[ 295 , 299 ]. It is also used in the treatment of arthritis[ 295 ]. The gel from the core of the leaves has a similar use as the gel from the leaves of Aloe vera, and is used to treat skin afflictions (burns, wounds, abrasions, irritations), and is applied as a poultice on contusions or as a general refrigerant[ 299 ]. It is furthermore used as a hair wash to promote hair growth and against dandruff[ 299 ]. The distinctive constituents in Aloe leaves are phenolic compounds, including chromone, anthraquinone or anthrone derivatives. Some of the compounds are found in many species, whereas others occur in only a few[ 299 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Cosmetic  Fencing  Hair  Repellent

Other uses rating: Medium (3/5). Other Uses: The gel from the core of the leaves has a similar use as the gel from the leaves of Aloe vera, and is used as a hair wash to promote hair growth and against dandruff and as a cosmetic to improve the complexion and to smooth the skin[ 299 ]. Aloe gel is also widely used as a hydrating and skin-protecting agent in creams and liquids such as sun lotion, shaving cream, lip balm and healing ointments[ 299 ]. The leaf ash is used as an insect repellent[ 299 ]. In South Africa Aloe ferox is planted as a live fence[ 299 ].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Aloe ferox is indigenous to the arid subtropical areas of South Africa, but it is now widely grown throughout the tropics and subtropics[ 299 ]. It grows in a wide range of climatic conditions. It is especially abundant where mean temperatures range from 27 - 31c and annual rainfall ranges from 50 - 300mm[ 299 ]. Plants can withstand light frost, with occasional short-lived temperatures as low as -4c, although the flowers may be damaged at -2c[ 299 , 423 ]. Requires a sunny position and a very well-drained soil. Thrives on rich soils[ 299 ], but is also tolerant of poor ones[ 200 ]. Aloe species follow the Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). CAM plants are able to fix CO2 at night and to photosynthesize with closed stomata during the day, thus minimizing water loss. This, plus their succulent leaves and stems and the presence of a thick cuticle, makes them well adapted to dry conditions. Severe drought, though, stops exudate production[ 299 ]. Although the root system is shallow, the plant can grow under very dry conditions[ 299 ]. A slow-growing plant[ 423 ]. Cape aloe has a stem surrounded with a persistent layer of dead leaves that insulate it in the case of bush fires[ 299 ]. Harvesting of Aloe ferox leaves for medicinal purposes could thus result in significant mortality due to fires[ 299 ].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow in a well drained medium in shallow trays and cover lightly with sand or the seed will blow away[ 295 ]. Once the seeds begin to germinate, keep moist but watch out for overwatering as the seedlings could rot[ 295 ]. Transplant into small pots or bags once they are about 4cm high (approximately 6 months)[ 295 ]. Plants can also be propagated by planting of the tops of old plants[ 299 ]. Plant regeneration from root and embryo tissue is successful as well[ 299 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Cape Aloe, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe, Cape Aloe, Alligator Jaw Aloe

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Found In: Africa, Australia, East Africa, Ecuador, South Africa, Southern Africa.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

None Known

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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