Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis): An Overview

Aloe vera is a succulent plant species with thick, fleshy leaves. It belongs to the genus Aloe and is native to arid regions in Africa. However, it is now cultivated worldwide for various purposes.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Classification and Taxonomy of Aloe vera

Aloe vera belongs to the plant kingdom. It is a flowering plant within the monocot classified under the order Asparagales.

Its family was known as Liliaceae but has been reclassified as Asphodelaceae. Aloe vera is the specific species identified as Aloe barbadensis within the Aloe genus.

KingdomPlantae
Division (or Phylum)Angiosperms (Flowering Plants)
ClassMonocots (Monocotyledons)
OrderAsparagales
FamilyAsphodelaceae (formerly Liliaceae)
GenusAloe
SpeciesA. vera (A. barbadensis)

Habitat and Distribution of Aloe vera

It is a succulent plant species within the diverse genus Aloe. It is prominently found in arid climates across Africa, India, and other arid regions. 

The extensive Aloe genus has around 140 species, primarily concentrated in South Africa. It grows in a range of soils with a pH between 7.0 and 8.5 in the altitude of sea level to altitudes of 2,700 meters. 

Likewise, it lives in different ecosystems, from closed-canopy forests to desert shrublands. 

Aloe vera is hardy in zones 8–11 but is sensitive to heavy frost and snow. Its succulence has led to its classification as an invasive species in various regions. 

It can endure low natural rainfall, making it ideal for rockeries and water-conserving gardens. 

Anatomy and Morphology of Aloe vera

Aloe vera is a succulent plant known for its triangle-shaped. Its fleshy leaves with serrated edges and yellow tubular flowers make its morphological characteristics unique. 

Each leaf has three layers: a clear gel with water, glucomannans, amino acids, lipids, sterols, and vitamins; a latex middle layer; and a protective outer layer called the rind. 

The plant is nearly stemless, and its leaves have sunken stomata. Anatomical studies show similar cell types in different parts of the plant. 

The roots have piths, and the vasculature is closed. Aloe vera is valued for its short growth period and is economically important in folk medicine. 

The plant’s anatomical pattern reflects efficient water use, which is helpful in arid and semi-arid climates.

Growth and Cultivation of Aloe vera

Aloe vera, known for its easy care, is a versatile plant suitable for indoor and outdoor cultivation.

It thrives in bright, natural light; it prefers up to six hours of full sun outdoors but appreciates a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day.

Meanwhile, it is adaptable to dry air and doesn’t demand extra humidity. It excels in poor soil conditions and is well-suited to the nutritional scarcity of desert soil. 

Aloe vera, with a shallow and wide root system, benefits from wider pots during repotting. It’s letting topsoil an inch or two dry out entirely between waterings.

Likewise, it flourishes in bright direct to indirect light as it originates from hot and arid regions. It can tolerate some shade and makes an excellent house plant near a sunny window. 

An annual diluted application of a liquid 10-40-10 houseplant fertilizer in spring is beneficial for optimal growth.

Reproduction of Aloe vera

Aloe vera exhibits both sexual and asexual reproduction methods. While it can produce seeds within capsules for sexual reproduction, this approach is less common. 

Meanwhile, it reproduces asexually through offsets, often called “pups,” emerging around the base of the mature plant. 

The method involves separating and repotting the pups and facilitates the growth of new Aloe vera plants. 

Aloe vera is mainly known for its prolific production of pups and makes asexual reproduction the preferred and easiest method. 

Its simplicity of propagation contributes to Aloe vera being one of the most straightforward and accessible houseplants to cultivate.

Physiological Adaptations of Aloe vera

Aloe vera has evolved several physiological adaptations that equip it to thrive in arid and semi-arid climates with limited water availability. 

The plant’s thick fleshy leaves, covered with a water-resistant cuticle and wax layer, serve as efficient water storage reservoirs. 

An essential adaptation is using Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) during photosynthesis. 

It is where malic acid formation helps reduce water loss through transpiration and allows Aloe vera to conserve water in hot climates. 

The plant has also developed a drought stress response, with adaptive evolution in genes related to drought stress, the CAM pathway, and circadian rhythm. 

Aloe vera‘s shallow and wide root system further aids moisture absorption from the soil, storing it in leaves for water and energy reserves. 

Aloe vera is invaluable for various purposes, including traditional medicine and skincare, and as a resilient and low-maintenance ornamental plant.

Chemical Composition and Active Components of Aloe vera

Aloe vera‘s medicinal properties are attributed to a rich array of chemical compounds found in its inner clear gel. 

The remaining content includes glucomannans, amino acids, lipids, sterols, and vitamins like A, C, E, B12, folic acid, and choline. 

Enzymes within the gel, including aliiase and bradykinase, contribute anti-inflammatory and swelling reduction properties. 

Aloe vera is also a source of minerals such as calcium, chromium.

These compounds contribute to the plant’s biological activities, including wound healing, antifungal effects, and hypoglycemic effects.

The main active constituents are chromone, anthraquinone, and their glycoside derivatives. 

Uses and Health Benefits of Aloe vera

Aloe vera offers a range of health benefits due to its antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Some notable advantages are given below: 

  • Aloe vera helps promote oral health by reducing dental plaque.
  • Aloe vera is known for speeding up the healing process of wounds.
  • Aloe vera‘s high water content and antioxidants may help prevent wrinkles and enhance skin elasticity.
  • Aloe vera helps enhance insulin sensitivity, potentially aiding blood sugar management.
  • It is effective in treating skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and may support hair growth.

Side Effects of Aloe vera

There are some side effects of aloe vera. Some side effects are given below: 

  • Topical use of Aloe vera may cause skin irritation. Individuals allergic to plants in the lily family, like onion and tulips.
  • Higher doses of Aloe vera, when ingested. It could lead to drug-induced hepatitis, although the risk varies among individuals.
  • It may cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea and potentially result in electrolyte imbalances if ingested for an extended period.
  • Individuals allergic to garlic, onions, or tulips are more likely to be allergic to Aloe vera.

Growing and Caring Aloe vera

The secrets of cultivating and nurturing the resilient Aloe vera plant are not so hidden. Let us break down the ways to care for the Aloe vera

Light

Aloe vera requires bright, natural light for optimal growth. Inside you should keep it in a south- or west-facing window to ensure it receives sufficient sunlight.

Watering

Aloe vera is a drought-tolerant plant. You should water it sparingly. Water approximately once a week or when the soil feels dry to the touch. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent overwatering.

Soil and Potting

A well-draining soil mix is crucial for Aloe vera. Opt for a sandy, well-draining commercial mix, or create your own by combining equal parts sand and potting soil. When repotting, choose a wider pot rather than a deeper one. Aloe vera has a shallow and wide root system.

Fertilization

Aloe vera lives in poor soil conditions and does not require frequent fertilization. Apply a liquid 10-40-10 houseplant fertilizer at half strength once a year in the spring for vibrant growth.

Temperature and Humidity

Aloe vera flourishes in warm temperatures and is adaptable to dry air. It does not demand extra humidity, making it well-suited for indoor environments.

Propagation

Aloe vera is easily propagated from offsets or “pups” that emerge at the base of the plant. Simply remove and repot these pups to cultivate new Aloe vera plants.

Outdoor Growth

For outdoor cultivation, plant Aloe vera in a well-drained bed in warm climates. It can withstand infrequent watering and exposure to sunlight for optimal growth.

Pests and Diseases of Aloe vera

Pests and DiseasesDescriptionTreatment/Prevention
Aloe MiteMicroscopic mites cause aloe cancer. Treat by removing affected tissue and applying aphicide solution.Remove affected tissue and apply a strong aphicide solution.
Mealybugs and ScalesCommon pests are removed by wiping with rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton swabs or spraying with water and dish soap mixture.Wipe with rubbing alcohol or spray with water and dish soap mixture.
AphidsAphids can be treated by spraying with water and dish soap or neem oil.Spray with water and dish soap or neem oil.
Black Leaf SpotFungal/bacterial infection due to poor conditions. Treat by removing affected leaves and improving growing conditions.Remove affected leaves, improve drainage, increase sunlight, and enhance soil quality.
Root RotCaused by overwatering. Prevent this by allowing the soil to dry between waterings and using well-draining soil.Allow soil to dry between waterings, and ensure well-draining soil.
Fungus GnatsResult of overly wet soil. Prevent by avoiding overwatering.Do not overwater to prevent fungus gnat infestation.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability of Aloe vera

Aloe vera is recognized as a sustainable crop with low water requirements. It thrives in arid areas without the need for chemicals. 

Its production is generally sustainable, posing minimal harm to air, water, land, and forests, especially when pesticides are avoided. 

Aloe vera‘s natural sustainability extends to waste reduction and carbon emissions. It delays the recurring seeding process until necessary. 

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the production of Aloe vera products, like supplements and skincare items. It can have environmental implications due to packaging materials and transportation. 

Aloe vera is considered an environmentally friendly crop, offering versatility in traditional medicine, skincare, and ornamental use.

Aloe vera Products

  • Aloe Vera Gel:
    • Skincare favorite for moisturizing and soothing properties.
    • Effective for treating sunburn, dry skin, and various skin conditions.
  • Aloe Vera Juice:
    • Popular supplement with believed health benefits.
    • May improve digestion, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation.
  • Aloe Vera Capsules:
    • Widely used supplement with diverse health benefits.
    • Believed to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and boost the immune system.
  • Aloe Vera Shampoo and Conditioner:
    • Essential ingredients in hair care products.
    • Known for moisturizing, nourishing, and promoting healthy hair growth.
  • Aloe Vera Food Products:
    • Featured in drinks, desserts, and snacks.
    • Attributed with health benefits such as improved digestion and reduced inflammation.

Interesting facts about Aloe vera

  • Revered by ancient civilizations, Aloe vera was known as the “plant of immortality” in ancient Egypt.
  • Aloe vera‘s fleshy leaves contain a healing gel, widely recognized for its therapeutic properties.
  • Thrives in diverse environments, from arid deserts to indoor pots, making it a resilient and popular plant.
  • Aloe vera is now cultivated globally, with commercial growth in the United States, Mexico, India, and China but originally cultivated in Africa. 
  • Aloe vera‘s cooling effect and nutrient-rich composition soothe sunburns and nourish the skin.
  • Doubles as an air purifier, contributing to a healthier indoor environment.
  • Boasting a rich chemical composition, Aloe vera contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. 

Conclusion

Aloe vera stands as a versatile and resilient plant, celebrated for its rich medicinal history, adaptability to diverse environments, and global cultivation. 

Its succulent leaves house a healing gel, renowned for skincare and therapeutic applications.

Aloe vera doubles as an air purifier, contributing to healthier indoor spaces. The plant’s chemical diversity, including vitamins and enzymes, underpins its multifaceted health benefits. 

While acknowledging its sustainable crop status, it’s crucial to consider the environmental impact of Aloe vera product production. 

Aloe vera emerges as a cherished botanical gem, seamlessly blending practicality with natural beauty.

References

  1. Surjushe A, Vasani R, Saple DG. Aloe vera: a short review. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53(4):163-166. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.44785
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269846534_ALOE_VERA_A_REVIEW_OF_ITS_CLINICAL_EFFECTIVENESS
  3. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jds/2014/210463/
  4. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/aloe-vera
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318591
  6. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-607/aloe
  7. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/aloe-vera/
  8. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=Aloe

About Author

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Krisha Karki

Krisha Karki is a B.Sc. microbiology student with a passion for writing, and expanding her knowledge is a unique blend of scientific curiosity and creative expression. Likewise, she deeply understands the microscopic world and its intricacies. With a deep-rooted curiosity and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, she eagerly explores the realms of microbiology. Her love for science and technology permeates the writing, infusing it with a unique blend of intellectual rigor and imaginative flair.

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