Torch aloes are a type of cactus or succulent that is closely related to the more commonly known aloe vera plant, along with around 130 other species of aloes. They are native to South Africa and were brought to Europe in the 1600s as a medicinal plant but gained widespread popularity as an ornamental plant after it was noticed how easy they were to care for and how attractive they were.
These plants are versatile in that they can be kept as houseplants or outdoor plants. They have a shrub-like habit, and in their native habitats are now cultivated as living fences (South African National Biodiversity Institute).
Torch aloes grow in a rosette pattern and have sword-like foliage, which is edged with sharp teeth. They are a gray-green color, and the teeth tend to have a slightly paler appearance. When kept outdoors, these plants produce striking flowers in May and June, which take the form of conical spikes growing vertically. They are most commonly orange-red but are also available in yellow. When kept as a houseplant, it is very unusual for the torch aloe to bloom.
These plants are thought to be the most widely cultivated aloe plant on the planet. It has several uses besides its ornamental value. The leaf sap of the torch aloe has several medicinal properties; it is antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and hypoglycemic. It has long been used to relieve the pain caused by burns but did not gain interest from western countries for this use until after it was shown to be successful in treating victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
It also has other uses, such as treating tummy aches or problems with childbirth. It is also used in the treatment of chickens and calves with health problems. The Zulu people are also known to dry the leaves of the torch aloe and crush them to a powder for use in warding off storms.
Aloe arborescens Overview
|Origin||Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa|
|Scientific Name||Aloe arborescens|
|Type||Cactus or succulent shrub|
|Common Names||Candelabra Aloe, Torch Aloe, Krantz Aloe, Tree Aloe, Mountain Bush Aloe|
|Height||Up to 10 feet tall|
|Toxicity||Toxic to cats and dogs|
|Watering||Low water needs|
|Pests||Scale insects, mealybugs|
There are around 130 species of aloe plant in existence, all bearing the telltale rosette appearance with fleshy foliage. The torch aloe is among the most popular aloe plants, thanks to its ability to thrive on neglect, and its ornamental beauty. Other varieties of aloe include the following.
Aloe capitata var. Quartziticola
Growing up to 3 feet tall, this is a medium-sized aloe plant. It is more cold hardy than many other varieties and can tolerate short periods of freezing temperatures. In the right conditions, it produces deep yellow flowers that are held high above the foliage of the plant.
Aloe cameronii (Red Aloe)
This aloe grows up to 2 feet tall and has great ornamental appeal. Its foliage can vary in color from green to orange and red and makes a bold statement as a centerpiece in the garden.
Aloe aristata (Torch Plant)
This is a smaller aloe, growing up to 1 foot in height. It has deep green fleshy leaves that have white teeth along their edges and are covered in white polka dots. It has won the Award of Garden Merit from the Horticultural Society.
Caring for Your Torch Aloe
This plant, as you would expect from a succulent, has low watering needs. If kept as a houseplant, you should water it throughout spring and summer once the soil has completely dried out. If you’re unsure whether to water the plant, dip your finger as far into the soil as you can to check for moisture. The plant is drought-tolerant, so it is better to err on the side of caution and withhold water, as overwatering will quickly kill the torch aloe.
When this plant is kept outside, it should be watered occasionally during warmer months. The frequency with which you need to water the plant will depend on its environment, as well as whether it is kept in a container or grown directly in the ground. Torch aloes kept in a container will need to be watered more often than those which aren’t, as their roots are unable to extend further out in search of moisture in the way that a ground-grown plant can.
During fall and winter, you can completely cease watering your outdoor torch aloe. Rainfall alone will be enough to sustain this plant during cooler times of year, when its growth dramatically slows down.
Torch aloes need full sun to thrive. In their native habitat, they grow on rocky mountainsides where there is no protection offered from the sun and will perform best when these conditions can be replicated. For plants grown outside, plant them in an open spot that receives full sun throughout the day. They do not require any protection from the sun, and will not scorch in extreme light and heat, so don’t feel the need to protect them with shade.
Torch aloes that are kept as houseplants should also be given as much light as possible. When they are young, they are ideal for sitting on a bright windowsill, though they are fast-growing and can outgrow windowsill positions quite quickly. When larger, they work well as floor plants but must always be in a spot with plenty of bright direct light.
Torch aloes are native to South Africa, where temperatures remain comfortable all year round. These plants are frost tender and cannot grow outside in climates that experience cold winters. The minimum temperature that they are able to tolerate is around 40º F, and therefore, they are suitable for growing in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.
If you live in a cooler climate, you can keep the torch aloe indoors as a houseplant. These plants are ideal for use as houseplants as they love the year-round warm temperatures that homes provide. Keep them away from any cold drafts, such as open windows or entryways, and ensure heating is kept on during winter so that temperatures don’t dip too low. Alternatively, you can move this plant outdoors during the summer, and bring it back indoors as temperatures start to drop.
Like most succulents, torch aloes do not appreciate high humidity. When kept as houseplants, they are not ideal for use in bathrooms or kitchens where humidity is naturally high. Avoid misting them with water sprays, or having them near humidifiers. Average home humidity would be best for this plant.
Torch aloes can be propagated in three ways; stem cuttings, seeds, and pups or side shoots. To propagate from stem cuttings, simply take one of the stems of the aloe and leave it out on the windowsill to dry out for a day or two.
Once the raw end of the cutting has calloused over, it is ready to plant in soil. Be careful not to miss this step, as otherwise, the cutting may rot in its own moisture. Plant the dried cutting in cactus soil, and keep it lightly moist and in a sunny position. The cutting will grow roots and develop into its own plant, and this can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Once big enough, transplant to a larger pot or plant directly in the ground outside. Be careful to not overwater young plants as they are especially sensitive to root rot (Birmingham Botanical Gardens).
To propagate from pups, you will usually need to wait until your torch aloe is a few years old. At this age, the plant naturally starts to develop offshoots, which can be removed from the plant and potted up as a separate plant. These plants also grow well from seed when sown after the last frost in spring. Maintain slightly moist soil and expect germination to occur in around 4 weeks.
As a fast-growing plant, the torch aloe can outgrow its initial home quite quickly. If you are planting the torch aloe directly in the ground outside, ensure it has enough space to grow so that you don’t have to dig it up and move it at a later date. It will reach a mature height of between 6 and 10 feet, with a similar-sized spread. If this plant is kept in a container, it will need to be repotted every few years in accordance with its growth and size.
Aloes as a species tend to do quite well when they are rootbound, so don’t rush to repot your plant every year, but keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t become so tight in its pot that it is unable to grow. When repotting, use a pot just one or two sizes bigger than the current pot, place the aloe in fresh cactus or succulent soil mix, and fill around it. The plant should be at the same level in the new pot that it was in the old pot.