Aloe maculata All. is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of Aloe. It was first described by Carlo Allioni in Auctarium Ad Synopsim Methodicam Stirpium Horti Reg. Taurinensis in 1773.
Aloe saponaria (Aiton) Haw., now a synonym, was described by Adrian Hardy Haworth in Translations of the Linnean Society of London in 1804. It was first described as Aloe perfoliata var. saponaria by William Aiton in Hortus Kewensis in 1789.
The genus, Aloe L., was named and described as such by Carl von Linnaeus in the first volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.
Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 585 species in the genus (as of 10-11-21 when this page was last updated). It is a member of the plant family Asphodelaceae with 40 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made on POWO.
*When I updated this page on 12-6-17, I decided I better check to make sure this species is still an accepted name. Luckily, Aloe maculata was still an accepted name but Plants of the World online said that Aloe saponaria is a synonym of Aloe microstigma ssp. microstigma… Earlier I sent an email to a correspondent from Kew who I met through an email to the editors of The Plant List. In his first reply, he informed me that The Plant List is no longer maintained but he gave me the link to the NEW Plants of the World online. The last email I mentioned my Aloe maculata and he said that A. saponaria was originally misnamed. GEEZ! I asked him if he could direct me to someone who could correctly identify my plant and told him why I was still confused about calling it an Aloe maculata (because of the flower clusters). He suggested two books I should check out and said maybe I could email one of the writers. Well, one of those books costs over $2,000 on Amazon! Then I found one, used, for $1,600! I replied and told him I had a lot of photos they could use and sent a few samples. Of course, the sample photos I sent were of my Aloe maculata. His reply said that the photos looked like Aloe maculata to him. He also said it could be a hybrid. GEEZ!
SOOOOOO… Since now Aloe saponaria is a synonym of Aloe microstigma ssp. microstigma, it is no longer a synonym of Aloe maculata... Plants of the World Online by Kew doesn’t list any synonyms of A. maculata although version 1.1 of the Plant List named 23 in 2013. Of course, The Plant List hasn’t been maintained since 2013 and was replaced by World Flora Online. They uploaded outdated data from The Plant List and I am not sure if they have updated it yet. I know they have made some changes recently, but I am not sure they have updated the scientific plant names. I have sent multiple emails and no one replies…
Most information online about A. maculata says it is a highly variable species from South Africa that readily hybridizes with other species. The “true” Aloe maculata supposedly has “H-shaped” spots and has “distinctive” flat-topped inflorescences. My plant does NOT have flat-topped inflorescences… I have sent photos of this plant to MANY people who know Aloe and they all say the same thing. It is likely a hybrid of Aloe maculata...
THERE ARE SEVERAL LINKS AND GROWING RECOMMENDATIONS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE.
I had only been living at the mansion in Mississippi for a few months in 2009 when a new friend of mine, Kyle Hall, brought me this offset. This plant was my original Aloe ‘Kyle’s Grandma‘ that led to my love of Aloe. Kyle’s grandmother had several of this species that she had been given by someone who took them from a plantation many years earlier. It was my first Aloe and the beginning of my love for them. I didn’t know what species it was, nor did I know Kyle’s grandmother’s name at the time, so I called it ‘Kyle’s Grandma’. Even though calling this plant Aloe maculata ‘Kyle’s Grandma’ isn’t “botanically” correct, that is what I call it and that is that…
Kyle and his family became very good friends of mine, like family, over the 3 years I lived in Leland, Mississippi.
When I started doing research I discovered it was an Aloe saponaria… Back then, Aloe saponaria and Aloe maculata were two different accepted species. The main reason I didn’t think it was an Aloe maculata was by the way the flower clusters are shaped. Most of the Aloe maculata photos I saw had flattish looking flower clusters. In fact, information online about Aloe maculata say that one of the distinguishing characteristics is the flat-topped flower clusters. Mine DOES NOT. PLUS, many of the photos of their flowers were yellow.
I have questioned several Aloe specialists and they all tell me that Aloe maculata is a variable species. There is a lot of that going around in this genus! Supposedly, Aloe maculata flower clusters can be flat-topped or not and flowers come in orange, red or yellow.
There are other species that also look similar, including the accepted species Aloe zebrina. In fact, my supposed Aloe maculata could very well be an Aloe zebrina. The only reason I went with Aloe maculata was because Aloe saponaria became a synonym. If I had have decided it was an Aloe zebrina in the first place, it would still be an Aloe zebrina. One other strange thing is that the “experts” write that Aloe maculata only grow to 40-45 cm tall (around 18″). The tallest measurement I had for mine was 22″. The Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms) website says this about Aloe zebrina:
“Aloe zebrina is a small to med sized maculated/striped aloe that form small groups from offsets at the base of plants of varying size. It can grow up to up to 160 cm tall and 200 cm in diameter It looks a bit like many other striped to spotted aloes particularly to Aloe saponaria but with slender more elongated leaves. Due to its wide distribution, it is a very variable species and differences exist between populations.”
Umm… That is over 60″ tall x 78″ wide! SIXTY INCHES TALL X SEVENTY-EIGHT INCHES WIDE! Maybe that width is for the clump and not an individual plant. 🙂
Another former accepted species, A. ammophila, was distinguished from A. zebrina by its longer leaves and brighter coral-red flowers. One photo on the Llifle website on the page of A. ammophila shows the leaves burnt and curling in the sun and say it is a characteristic of that species. GEEZ! They all do that in full sun in the hot summer. I have seen photos of Aloe almost burnt to a crisp and experts say it is perfectly fine and wonderful (not a quote). There are other synonyms of Aloe zebrina (A. angustifolia and A. transvaalensis to name two) with similar characteristics, all distinguished in some way or another, from one another. So, again, this species is variable from one location to another.
When I moved my potted plants inside for the winter on October 2010, I noticed the Aloe maculata ‘Kyle’s Grandma had a bud peeking through. By the 27th the stem was about a foot tall.
This was a WOW moment for me for sure! My first Aloe flower!
I think way back when new species were being discovered and named was an exciting time for many “plant explorers”. They may have known about similar species to a plant they found but perhaps they didn’t realize how variable some species could be. Interestingly, though, they could have just said it was a variety of the similar species instead of giving it a new name. Well, originally, that is what happened with the Aloe saponaria. It was originally named Aloe perfoliata var. saponaria by William Aiton in 1789. What is strange to me is how they take a plant and give it a name based on certain distinguishing characteristics, features, location, or whatever reason. Then someone else comes along, finds the same plant, renames it because of this and that reason only for it to happen again and again. Maybe someone finds it in another location with yellow flowers instead of red and gives it another name. Then years pass, phylogenetic analysis is done and we find out that all the previous names were wrong. Just think of what Carl von Linnaeus could have done with that!
This photo is one of my favorites for sure. It looks so stately and magnificent. So undeniable beautiful and indestructible!
The above photo is of the original plants first offset when it was two years old. I think these plants would get even bigger if they were in larger pots. I learned a lot about growing Aloe and Agave that produce a lot of offsets. #1 is not to put them in “designer” pots with curved sides. It is harder to remove offsets and removing the big plants to put them in larger pots is almost impossible without completely damaging the plant. SO, I just left them in their pots and added fresh soil off and on…
When I removed offsets I always gave them a number and kept a record of their growth, who I gave them to, etc. in a journal. Normally I only put one offset in a pot, but I transplanted two in pot #7 and called them THE TWINS. You will see them again later on this page.
I had a lot of time on my hands while I was in Mississippi as you must imagine by now. It gave me time to enjoy the backyard, grow new plants, learn how to propagate, etc.
From the first offset in 2009 until I moved from Mississippi in February 2013, I removed a total of nearly 100 offsets from the original Aloe maculata ‘Kyle’s Grandma’ and its descendants.
The flower clusters were always amazing and it seemed like there were always a few plants blooming. Sometimes there would be 2-3 on an individual plant at the same time.
You will notice the Aloe maculata in the photo… The one on the left is green and the two on the right have reddish-brown leaves.
I am a guy who likes to know what the names of his plants are and not really knowing what this Aloe is drives me a little batty.
Ummm… Some photos just make me go blank.
I moved back to the family farm in mid-Missouri with my parents in February 2013. I had sold the mansion in Leland, Mississippi to a group to renovate it and turn it into a bed and breakfast (The Thompson House Bed and Breakfast). I took most of my succulents with me, but since the original Aloe maculata ‘Kyle’s Grandma’ was too large (about 24″ tall x 42″ wide), I decided to take THE TWINS (the ones pictured in photo #69-10 taken on 8-3-11). Believe it or not, they were both still together in the same pot but had been transplanted a couple of times to larger pots. They were so relieved to be in their own pots and started growing and producing their own offsets in nothing flat.
As you can see in the above photo, just 40 days later, their offsets are past ready to be removed…
I was thinking “HERE WE GO AGAIN” as I was removing these offsets from the two pots on 9-6-13. At that point, I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I decided to take most of them to Wagler’s Greenhouse. It wasn’t like living at the mansion in Mississippi with 5 sunrooms and an awesome backyard. Oh yeah, I had plenty of room at the farm outside, but overwintering was going to be a challenge. Just something I was about to get used to.
I had been wondering at what point do I stop calling them Aloe maculata ‘Kyle’s Grandma’? As I get more into plant taxonomy and realize the need for proper identification, ‘Kyle’s Grandma’ is definitely not an accepted cultivar. I gave the original plant that name because I didn’t know what species it was. I had many plants with the names of where they came from or the people who gave them to me. I even named the Hardy Ageratum Aunt Inez gave to my dad Conoclinum coelestinum ‘Aunt Inez’. I guess it’s OK and no one has sued me yet. No taxonomists, botanists or horticulturalists have told me to stop so I guess I will just keep doing it. I think it is better than the industry mislabeling plants in the trade… But actually, the industry using older names that are synonyms is much better than no name at all. At least they point you in the right direction…
Personally, I prefer growing my Aloe in a little shade so their leaves won’t burn to a crisp in the sun. I like the nice green color because it makes them look happier and healthy. I do know possibly the leaves would be somewhat shorter in more light.
The above photo is the last one before I had to move the plants inside for the winter. They did very well…
Although some plants didn’t like it in the basement and had to be upstairs, the Aloe maculata and a few other succulents and cactus (plus the Alocasia and Billbergia nutans) did very well in the basement. Even the Echeveria were better off in the cooler temps in the basement with little water than being upstairs. In the cooler temp and no water, their leaves didn’t stretch like they would (did) in warmer temps and lower light (or even bright light indirect light) upstairs. I was very surprised!
Back outside and flowering already in the early summer of 2014. I know it was as glad to get outside.
This was the last photo I took of THE TWINS.
I had to start over with many plants and luckily I had given a few Aloe maculata to Wagler’s Greenhouse. So, I brought another one home.
I am somewhat embarrassed to show you this photo… I have no idea what happened, I guess neglect over the winter… I should be ashamed and I was. I apologized and promised not to neglect it again.
Even though it was not happy, it wanted to make me happy with a flower.
By the time cooler weather was on its way and would be time to go inside for the winter, my Aloe maculata companion was looking much better. Now, even though it is in the basement, it is still looking good.
I am going to work on this plant this summer (2018) so it will look MUCH better by the end of the summer. It needs a MUCH bigger pot for sure!
I finally put the Aloe maculata in its new pot and removed the pup and put it in its own pot. There is another offset peeking through and several that haven’t made it that far. I put it in a much larger pot because I know what it will do…
I moved most of the potted plants to the front porch on July 4. The Aloe maculata is doing very well now and showing its appreciation. It loves attention and being where everyone can see it.
We survived the winter and now the potted plants are glad to be back outside again. The Aloe maculata spent the winter in the dining room and was getting a bit tired of it.
Soon, her pups are going to need to be removed.
Aloe maculata looking awesomely well by June 5.
I noticed a bud while taking photos on June 9.
I had to move the plants inside on October 11 because a “F” was in the forecast. The Aloe maculata grew like crazy over the past summer because it was getting a lot of attention. It is quite a show stopper! It is now 19″ tall x 42″ wide!
I screwed up this past spring and put this plant on a table on the back porch on a warmer day. I am not sure what happened, actually. It either got too cold or had too much sun too soon. Anyway, the parent plant didn’t like it and died. I never had that happen before and it won’t happen again. I was busy this past summer so didn’t get the offsets put in other pots, so here they are on October 15 still in the big pot when I moved the plants inside for the winter…
I can hardly believe I haven’t removed the offsets in this pot from the old plant yet. Well, I just need to do it whether I want to or not… I get busy over the summer and neglect doing some things I need to get done.
OK, so I was a bad parent in 2022. Again I was fairly busy in 2022 and still didn’t get this pot divided. GEEZ!!! No wonder I don’t have a to-do list…
*During the summer, I keep most of my cactus on the back deck where they receive full sun. During the winter most cactus aren’t picky about the light because they are basically dormant. For several winters, mine were in front of the east-facing sliding door in the dining room so they didn’t get much light but they did great. I built a new shelf for the bedroom so now they are in front of a west-facing window. Most of the succulents are on a shelf in a south-facing window in a cool bedroom but a few are in my bedroom. I keep this Aloe on the front porch next to the steps where there is no roof. It gets plenty of light and only direct sun a few hours a day. I don’t like my Aloe’s and hybrids in full sun because I don’t like their leaves burning.
**When it comes to potting soil, finding the “sweet spot” is not exactly that easy when materials are limited. Cactus and succulent enthusiasts (and experts) do not recommend using peat-based commercial mixes but what choice is there for most of us. They say to use a loam-based mix… Hmmm… Our soil is loam, so do I just use dirt? Well, no because “dirt” is heavy and you need a “light” material. There is A LOT of cactus and succulent recipes online and some get pretty elaborate. Many say to use sand as an ingredient, but if you do that, it needs to be very coarse, like builders sand, because “ordinary” sand, like for sandboxes, is too fine and it clogs up the air space between the coarser ingredients. For MANY years I used 2 parts Miracle Grow or Schultz Potting amended with an additional 1 part of perlite and 1 part chicken grit. Schultz doesn’t seem to have as many large pieces of bark. Cactus and succulent enthusiasts recommended using pumice instead of perlite and grit so I checked it out… The “guy” at General Pumice (online) recommended using a 50/50 mix of potting soil and pumice. General Pumice has 3 different sizes to choose from depending on the size of the pot. SO, in 2018 I bought a bag of 1/8″ and mixed it 50/50 with Miracle Grow Potting Soil. I liked it pretty well. Then in 2020, since most of the cactus were in larger pots, I ordered the 1/4″ size. Pumice has a lot of benefits over perlite and has nutrients that are added to the soil when watering. Pumice is also heavier so it stays mixed in the soil instead of “floating” to the top. Still, there is the issue of the mix getting very hard once you stop watering the plants during the winter when you stop watering. I think this is because of the peat in the potting soil… SO, instead of re-potting the cactus and succulents in the spring, I started doing it during the fall and winter so their soil would be loose. Since you don’t water as frequently during the winter if at all, the timed-release fertilizer does not activate. I have not tried coir, but I am looking into it…
***I water my cactus and succulents on a regular basis during the summer but barely ever in the winter (maybe a little in January) until close to time to take them back outside.
You can read my Cactus Talk & Update and Cactus & Succulent Tips to get my opinion about growing cactus and succulents.
When you bring your new plants home from the store, you need to check their roots and the soil to see if they are wet. If so, you may want to re-pot it right away. It is advisable to re-pot them in a better potting soil more suitable for cactus and succulents.
I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant.
Thank you so much for this detailed description. This has helped me to identify the aloe i have inherited from a friend in the 90s who left it for me to plant sit. It’s still here! Mine also prefers partial shade and sends up a spring 3 part orange flower shoot, Thanks!
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Hello Suzanne! I am glad you found my tribute to the Aloe maculata useful. I am sure yours has had LOTS of descendants since the 1990’s. It is quite a species… Take care and thanks for the comment!
This plant is likely Aloe maculata x grandidentata…it’s a very common hybrid, grows larger than maculata and has blooms like yours (whereas maculata blooms are umbrella shaped.)
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Hello J! You are quite possibly correct. In speaking with a few Aloe experts, they only suggest the name is Aloe maculata but say the species is variable. I don’t like even using the word “variable” and think some key features separate species, subspecies, varieties, and hybrids not recognized in new taxonomy. Many plants readily hybridize in nature which over time have become new species… Just my opinion. Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment!