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Aloe vs. Aloe Vera: Understanding the Key Differences Between These Plants

A common misconception is that aloe and aloe vera are the same plants, but that’s not entirely true.

Yes, they share some similarities, such as their therapeutic properties and general care needs, and they look somewhat alike. However, some distinctive differences between these two are worth exploring.

How to Differentiate Between Aloe and Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera typically has larger leaves with fewer thorns than most other aloes, making it appear lush and bluish.
Aloe vera typically has larger leaves with fewer thorns than most other aloes, making it appear lush and bluish

Often, the internet presents aloe and aloe vera as the same species. Technically, they do belong to the same family, but there’s more to the story.

Aloe is a broad category that includes many different varieties, and aloe vera is one of these subtypes.

With a wide geographical range, botanists categorize these plants based on specific physical traits. Both aloe and aloe vera have particular characteristics that make them unique.

Here are the main differences to look out for:

  • Plant size
  • Leaf color
  • Root system complexity
  • Breeding conditions
  • Flowering process

Quick tip: Differentiating between the two plants visually isn’t tricky. Aloe vera typically has larger leaves with fewer thorns than most other aloes, making it appear lush and bluish. So, aloe vera has a higher decorative appeal.

While both plants have similarly shaped flowers, the standard aloe blooms are yellow. In contrast, aloe vera flowers can be red or orange.

Understanding the Primary Differences Between the Plants

Even though both plants belong to the same species, they have several distinct differences.

It’s essential to understand these in detail to determine which is more suited for therapeutic purposes and which is better for decorative reasons.

Physical Appearance with Photos

When you look at aloe, you will notice:

  • Green leaves with small spikes are designed to conserve moisture in their natural habitat.
  • Leaves that gradually narrow, reaching up to about 6 inches (15 cm) in length.
  • A very branching root system.
  • The plant can grow up to 31 inches (80 cm) tall.
  • You can find this plant naturally in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa.
  • It has a large number of side shoots.

Now let’s talk about aloe vera. Its characteristics include:

  • Green leaves, but with a bluish tint.
  • Leaves that are broader in the middle and gradually narrow, with small spikes on them.
  • The plant appears as a large shrub.
  • Its height is around 20 inches (50 cm).
  • It lives in its natural environment on the Arabian Peninsula.
  • The shrub grows expansively but produces a small number of lateral shoots.

If you pay close attention, confusing these two plants is hard. They are visibly distinct. However, each requires its unique care.

These plants are not demanding, but you must water them periodically and perform other actions.

The Discovery History

The story of these plants’ origins is rather lengthy. According to written evidence, it is believed that aloe vera is older.

Ancient Sumerians knew about its healing properties and actively applied this knowledge in their lives.

However, the plant only grew in its natural environment and wasn’t cultivated specifically for home conditions.

A clay tablet dating back to 2100 B.C. is evidence of this. There’s also information about this plant in ancient Egyptian records. They first wrote about it around 1550 B.C., detailing 12 ways to use the plant medicinally.

There’s also a hypothesis that aloe vera is depicted in an ancient Egyptian temple over 6,000 years old.

However, this claim lacks indisputable evidence. In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates also valued this plant imported from Egypt.

As for common aloe, the Egyptians were aware of it too. They used it for the following purposes:

  • To disinfect wounds.
  • During the mummification of the deceased.
  • To treat a range of other illnesses.

Fun fact: The common or tree-like aloe grows naturally almost all over Africa, making it easy for the Egyptians to source the material for mummifying bodies and treating diseases. They also sold this plant to other countries, earning them a tidy income. The fact that this civilization knew 12 ways to use aloe juice speaks to the high level of their medical knowledge.

Beneficial Properties

Both types of aloe have many beneficial properties, which are pretty much the same. However, aloe vera is also used in cosmetics for creating various creams. These creams protect and nourish the skin, helping to heal certain abrasions and scars.

How Do Aloe and Aloe Vera Care Differ?

In terms of care, they’re quite similar, although aloe vera needs a bit more attention. Here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • Water more often since aloe vera has larger leaves and loses more moisture.
  • Regularly loosen the soil (this applies to both plants).
  • Prune to remove dry and weak shoots.
  • It’s recommended to feed the plants more frequently.

Many gardeners cultivate aloe vera without feeding or pruning, causing the plant to slow its growth. However, repotting every 2-3 years is necessary; otherwise, the plant could stop growing and eventually die. Due to an extensively branched root system, the pot may easily crack.

If the plant is getting cramped, it’s time to repot. Since the plant doesn’t prepare for winter, it’s best to repot in early spring or fall, after the active growth stage.

To experience its blooming process, you must create an artificial winter, lowering the indoor temperature to around 50°F (10°C).

Check out my article where I’ve detailed some of the most uncommon and distinctive aloe species.

Which Plant Should You Choose?

That totally depends on your final goal. Given that both plants’ healing properties are similar, it doesn’t matter much which one you pick.

It’s beneficial to have both at home. They’re easygoing, needing only periodic watering and handling drought impressively well.

In conclusion, regular aloe and aloe vera are great plants for growing. They don’t get too big in domestic conditions, and their low maintenance requirements let you have several varieties simultaneously. Remember that aloe vera seeds or shoots can cost a bit more in garden stores.

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