Aloe vera vs agave

Health Blogger Poisons Herself On Live Video While Biting Poisonous Plant Mistaken As Aloe Vera

A health blogger in China is reported to have accidentally poisoned herself while eating what she believed was aloe vera, a plant known for its range of health benefits.

The Chinese social media personality known as Zhang was live streaming a video of herself to show the health benefits of the aloe plant. Unfortunately, she bought the wrong type of plant.

What she had was an Agave americana, also known as century plant, whose leaves look similar to those of the aloe. The plant from Mexico does not have any health benefit at all and is also known to be poisonous.

The 26-year-old vlogger eventually realized she used the wrong plant for her video, which has since been circulating on Chinese websites.

She was initially seen saying “yum” and “this is great” while biting what was supposed to be aloe vera leaf. She later realized that there was a problem and complained the plant tasted “bitter.” Her mouth then felt numb and a sensation on her throat felt like it was “on fire.”

She was reportedly told at the hospital that she did not feast on aloe vera and what she had instead was a dangerous plant. The vlogger reportedly broke out in rashes and blisters and doctors were even forced to pump her stomach. Zhang is fortunately now in a stable condition.

Cactus-Like Aloe Vera Plant

The aloe is a cactus-like plant that tends to grow in hot and dry climates. The gel and latex substances that it produces are used for medicine.

People take the aloe gel by mouth for diabetes, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma, fever, itching, and stomach ulcers. The aloe latex, which comes from just under the skin of the plant and is yellow in color, is mainly used as laxative albeit it is also known to treat other maladies.

Agave Americana: Aloe’s Poisonous Look-Alike

The leaves of the Agave are similar in appearance to those of the aloe, but the Agave is not closely related to aloe nor to the cacti plant family.

The Agave has culinary uses. Tequila, for instance, is made from blue Agave plant. The Agave is also as a sweetener that serves as an alternative to sugar in cooking. The Agave plant, though, needs careful preparation because it can be toxic.

The plant’s sap contains calcium oxalate crystals called raphides, which can be incredibly irritating, as well as other toxic compounds.

“The raphides of calcium oxalate have been classified historically as a chemical irritant mainly because they allow the penetration of other plant chemical toxins (including proteases, saponins, and other chemicals) that may not normally breach the skin on contact. They also enhance the penetration of known skin irritants,” experts from the Baylor College of Medicine wrote in an article published on Medscape.

The most common side effects of contact with saps of the century plant include eye damage, rash, as well as burning and itching of the skin. The symptoms often show up within 24 to 48 hours. Ingestion of the plants can also cause vomiting or diarrhea.

Common names
Chinese Aloe, Indian Aloe, True Aloe, Barbados Aloe, Burn Aloe, First Aid Plant, Wand of Heaven and Miracle Plant

Botanical name
Aloe barbadensis

Poisonous parts
Latex

Poisonous component
Aloe-emodin

Notes
Aloe is a popular house plant due to its reputation as a healing plant for burns, cuts and other skin problems since ancient times. Aloe is mentioned in the New Testament at John 19:39-40

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes…

Caution should be exercised before using Aloe from an Aloe plant because contact dermatitis can occur in sensitive individuals. You should cut away the skin and inner layer of yellow juice leaving only the actual gel. The yellow juice, especially prominent in older plants, is the primary irritant in the cases of contact dermatitis. Test a small area of skin, such as the inner forearm, for a reaction before more general use.

As with Aloe arborescens, ingestion of the latex, which is found just under the skin, can cause a cathartic (purging) reaction by irritating the large intestine. One of the components of Aloe is a compound called Aloin. It was a common ingredient in laxative products until the FDA banned its use in 2003. Aloin is now typically removed during processing.

Although there is no doubt that Aloe holds many promising uses there is a great deal of controversy surrounding its safety and efficacy and more research is needed to unlock its true potential.

Aloe is also an air purification plant.

Aloe vera- Magic, Mystery and Myth

Though the plant, Aloe vera (aka Aloe barbadensis) is not one of the more interesting or beautiful of the Aloes, it is still a decent landscape plant, as well as one of the best indoors aloes there are. The only reason I have one in my collection is so the person who insists on chopping off all my aloe leaves in the front yard (an ongoing but unsolved crime for the last 5 years I have lived here) can at least have one plant that I do not care if he/she hacks off its leaves… and perhaps they will someday learn that THAT is the plant they are really looking for and all my other plants will either poison them or give them a rash so bad, they will stay away for a long time. I guess to some, all aloes look alike.

Aloe succotrina (left) butchered nearly weekly by some unknown neighbor- note the cut edges are purple- the is an identifying characgterisic of this and several other species of aloe (Aloe vera does not have purple cut edges); right is an Aloe pluridens the neighbor eventually hacked to death removing all the leaves, presumably for the ‘magical effect’ of the aloe leaves, perhaps thinking this was a form of Aloe vera…? I have no idea if Aloe pluridens has any of the same properties as Aloe vera, personally.

Two examples of large aloes that are actually trees, for those not aware of the existence of other Aloe species- Aloe barberae (left)- a humongous tree, and Aloe dichotoma (right) and nice, stately tree as well

two more varieties of Aloe that look nothing like Aloe vera- Aloe dorotheae (left) and miniature species Aloe krapohliana (right)

Here are two species that do look a lot like Aloe vera, but aren’t: Aloe porphyrostachys (left) and Aloe vacillans (right). Aloe vacillans even has flowers that look almost identical to Aloe vera

No one is certain where Aloe vera came from, but many assume northern Africa or Arabia since there are references to what appears to be this plant in old Egyptian ‘writings’ where it was already being advertised as a healing plant. And since then it has been grown all over the world, naturalizing in many countries and tolerating many climates, from warm and tropical to extreme desert. It does not, however, tolerate much cold so its latitudinal spread has been somewhat limited… outdoors. It is one of the few Aloe species commonly sold and successfully grown indoors in just about any climate there is.

Cultivation:

offsets being rooted in separate pots (photo by timmijo) left: right is photo of mature plant offsetting like crazy in Arizona (photo Xenomorf)

As an outdoor landscape plant, it is one of the few aloes that bloom year round, providing the grower with some brilliantly yellow flowers no matter what the season. Flowers are simple and arise on single or sparsely branched, upright, open racemes. Aloe vera plants with red flowers have recently been reassigned to different species (either Aloe koenenii or more commonly to Aloe officinalis)- these species are extremely similar in appearance, though most are smaller, more spotted and aggressively offsetting species. The Aloe vera plant itself is not the most ornamental of the Aloe species, and seems to have two completely different appearances, depending upon how it is grown. Outdoors, in a warm climate, this plant grows fairly large (up to over two and a half feet tall), not quite as wide (single rosettes about two feet in diameter maximum) and has pale grey-green leaves that may or may not have subtle white spots mostly near the leaf bases. The leaves are ‘armed’ with fairly innocuous, widely spaced white teeth. Eventually these plants offset and produce large colonies of plants. That is in fact the only way this species is propagated as no Aloe veras produce viable seed and haven’t for centuries. They spread entirely by offsetting (it is amazing that it has been naturalized in so many countries around the world since it cannot be reproduced by seed).

Aloe vera growing outdoors in southern California- left in a cactus garden, right in a garden of perrenials where it gets a lot more consistent water.

newly purchased aloe ($4) left; Mature aloe in planter (photo chgrpt) right

Aloe vera colony in southern California

plants identified as Aloe vera, but due to the non-yellow color of their flowers, are probably something else, such as Aloe officionalis (photo on right by cactus_lover)

flowers of ‘true’ Aloe vera showing proper color and shape of racemes.

Indoors the plant rarely flowers (it definitely seems happier outdoors) and tends to stay in its more juvenile leaf form- thin, pale green and heavily spotted, forming along etiolated, twisted tangles of long stems that eventually fall out of the pot. The glaucous bloom one often sees on the leaves on outdoor plants rarely develops on the indoor plants, making them much greener in comparison. The two plants (indoor and outdoor) look like different species side by side.

Aloe vera growing indoors (photo Pashta)

Cultivation of this species of aloe is fairly straight forward- well draining soil, water only when needed, bright light (full sun is best) and do not allow it to freeze. There are dozens of soil types and recipes that will support this plant and thanks to its adaptability, it can even survive soils that seem to retain moisture (unlike a lot of other Aloes). However, if grown indoors or in cool climates, this sloggy sort of soil can end up allowing Aloe veras to rot. Here in southern California, this plant can even be grown in clay soils fairly easily, but it rarely ever freezes in most areas, and most of the days are sufficiently warm to keep that from happening. When in doubt, add a lot of pumice to the soil- can’t hurt and it may prevent disaster.

Watering when needed just means if the soil is dry, water, or if the plant is looking dehydrated, water well. These amazing plants tolerate over-watering in many conditions quite well, but I do not recommend making a practice of that. Again, in California, overwatering outdoors is somewhat difficult if the soil type is right. On the other hand, if grown in the ground, underwatering is not so easy either, as these plants tolerate an amazing amount of abusive dehydration. Potted, underwatering is more of a real issue, particular during hot, dry summers and in clay, unglazed pots. Severely chronically dehydrated plants have to be eased slowly back into shape or they also can rot, since the long term dehydration can lead to root death and a weakened root system that will not be able to take advantage of a lot of successive watering.

The native land of this plant is suspected to be northern Africa or Arabia, where full, hot sun and very low humidity are the norm. It has evolved to deal with this sort of climate, as have many aloe species. And growing such plants indoors or in shade or in the tropics often ends up in loss of the plant. Amazingly, this one seems to tolerate all of the above, growing in wet tropics to shady yards to an entire life without any direct sun at all (not ‘happily’, though). As a general rule, the more light the better. However, as with all succulents (and most all plants), moving from a position of long term shade to full, hot sun will end likely end up in severe scorch and permanent leaf damage (or at least until those leaves are replaced by new ones). Acclimation needs to be slow if one wants to move their plant back and forth from indoors to a sunny locations outside (not really practical, actually).

This is about ‘middle road’ in terms of cold tolerance in the aloe family. Some are much more sensitive to frost, while others can tolerate a good deal of frost and even a short freeze without much damage. This species does not appear to be damaged at temperatures above 27F, but below that, leaf damage occurs, and outright death down in to the low 20s (though sometimes the plant will regrow from root stock if this happens).

Uses:

It is the gel of the aloe that has gotten all the attention over the centuries, though the sap, juice or latex secreted by the outer layer of the aloe leaves has received its share of attention, too. But if one is intent on ingesting aloe leaves, or applying them to their skin, I suggest one peal off the outer layer of the leaf to removed the non-gel-producing tissues as the product in this part of the leaf is not quite as ‘user-friendly’. What is left is often referred to as the ‘fillet’ and it is a very gelatinous but still mostly leaf-shaped structure that comprises 99% of the aloe leaf mass.

Aloe I acquired from garden outlet store (left) and cut a leaf off of; right shows cut leaf edge

Cut leaf on two sides

Aloe leaf with skin layer removed (along with toxic products) exposing one side of the fillet (left); Aloe ‘skin’ with all the Aloin in it- underside view.

Aloe vera leaves for sale in grocery store(left) Aloe gel after processing (photo from Wikipedia)

The number of benefits assigned to this remarkable gel, and the number of conditions and diseases benefited from its use are nearly endless, and, I suspect, have been greatly exaggerated, and for certain most claims are anecdotal and unsubstantiated scientifically. Still, aloe products comprise a billion dollar industry and these products seem only to grow in popularity year after year. There are definitely some beneficial properties to Aloe vera gel. From seems to be ‘factual’ is that the gel does have some beneficial effects in treating mild burns and possibly in the healing of scar tissue. However, in terms of healing wounds there are conflicting reports. There may also be some mild topical antibiotic effects of the gel as well. Aloe gel also has several oral nutritional properties that include a few potentially useful and possibly bioactive antioxidants, a digestive anti-inflammatory effect, a potential to ease hyperlipidemia and a hypoglycemic property as well.

Aloe gels, sold for treating skin ‘ailments’ (too long a list to describe sometimes?)

The less-than-scientific uses for aloe gel include dozens of cosmetic and topical treatments and cures, from preventing sun burn, rapidly healing fresh skin wounds, treating radiation burns (this has been proven to be false advertising however), frostbite, viral warts, herpes, seborrhea, psoriasis, etc. There are almost no cosmetic product categories that do not have hundreds of aloe-containing options available (this includes even the pet shampoos, conditioners and other dermatologic products, too). The medicinal, internal effects are even more amazing, from stopping colon cancer, stabilizing blood sugar, curing yeast infections, protecting against kidney disease, curing Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disorder/disease/syndrome, reduces acid reflux, antiviral activity, urinary cystitis, prevents kidney stones, soothes arthritic pain, halts the growth of various tumors and speeds the recovery from physical exertion. Though it is unclear the route it is given, aloe gel can also be used to treat hypotensive shock and reducing stroke and heart attack incidence. It can oxygenate the blood, too and improve physical endurance (at least I assume these two separately listed claims are related in this way). One of the most remarkable claims is that one will increase one’s life span by 10% by regularly ingesting this product (not sure how to refute or prove that one). Reportedly Aloe vera gel is also an excellent natural preservative though its use of one is reportedly limited by its inability to be patented for such use, therefore making aloe preservative an uninteresting product for most companies that manufacture preservatives. I am not sure I understand that argument as all other properties of this gel seem to be exploited to the maximum. One should note that most of the above claims are made by someone selling something.

More products for skin treatment with aloe in them

The latex from the outer layer of the leaf has been used for centuries as a laxative, but its main product (aloin) has been taken off the market due to lack of sufficient studies, and possibly due to one study that showed it has some carcinogenic effects in rats. Thus the ‘toxic’ nature of Aloe vera is often warned against, as well (Aloe vera is interestingly on many toxic plant lists, probably for this reason). This external leaf layer is also where almost all the nutrients exist that are listed by the promoters of aloe juice and oral supplements. Fortunately the toxic or laxative aloin can be extracted and eliminated from these oral supplements and juices. A video that covers this last concern can be seen on this link below that describes how aloe gel is processed in general, as well.

Some products that don’t mention ‘aloin’ but have ‘leaf’ in them and discuss the laxative effect… so some products are still on the market it appears.

Video on how Aloe gel is processed: http://www.iasc.org/

Another site showing detail photos of removing the center fillet: http://www.naturalnews.com/PhotoTour_Aloe_Vera_1.html

All aloes have gel in their leaves but it is not clear if most or even a minority of these species contain similar gel to what is found in Aloe vera, though I suspect many of the properties and ingredients are the same. Most of these others species are not common enough in cultivation to be exploited in the same way Aloe vera has been, possibly due to Aloe vera’s exceptional adaptability as well as its lack of nasty, sharp marginal teeth so many other species possess. However, Aloe ferox is in a distant second place for being used for everything under the sun, and some argue this plant is superior in safety as it contains very little aloin, so the entire leaf can safely be used and processed. For more on Aloe ferox and its miraculous (but unproven) properties, see the link below. Interestingly many aloes have various colored gels, some which are even useful in their identification. I wonder if any of these brilliantly colored gels have been researched enough to discover what miracles could be boasted about.

Aloe ferox is an excellent landscape plant, as well as having a long list of medical uses

Other aloes may have useful saps as well… who knows. This Aloe rubroviolacea is a particularly juicy species, producing a brilliant yellow sap, the peculiarly turns a deep purple as it dries (see stains on concrete)- good medicine?

Links to sites showing Aloe processing photos and facts:

Plants That Look Like Aloe Vera

aloe vera image by Yvonne Bogdanski from Fotolia.com

The aloe vera plant is a succulent that grows wild in arid climates and is often grown in gardens and in the home. The juice from the aloe plant is used in medicines as well as cosmetics. The spiky green, serrated leaves have white specks and the plant produces tubular flowers.

Significance

Many people like to cultivate aloe for its perceived cosmetic and health benefits. They may not be as interested in growing plants that look like aloe, such as agave and yucca. Or, conversely, they may be interested in growing agave and yucca but not aloe. It’s important to know an aloe plant when you see one.

Agave

Agave is often confused with aloe vera. Agave, a perennial, also features green, spiky leaves. The leaves are broader than the aloe plant’s leaves. The borders of the leaves are a paler green. Agave, like aloe vera, also has many uses. Agave is used to make tequila and as a folk remedy for constipation and arthritis. Agave, like aloe, also produces tubular flowers. Both agave and aloe have serrated leaves.

Stapelia

Stapelia, like aloe, is a succulent. That means stapelia contains juices within its leaves. The leaves are a bit more like cactus leaves than the aloe or the agave. They are pointy and a similar green color. When a stapelia is flowering, it is easier to tell it apart from similar looking aloe and agave plants. The flower is not a series of tubular petals. Instead, there is one big starfish-looking flower.

Yucca

Yucca is closely related to agave and looks more like aloe than stapelia. Yucca leaves are flatter and glossier than aloe, however, and they are not serrated. The flowers are not quite as tubular but are often mistaken for aloe flowers when seen from a distance or seen by those who aren’t familiar with the appearance of aloe flowers.

The Difference Between Aloe and Haworthia

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Can you tell the difference between Aloe and Haworthia? Even experienced succulent lovers can become confused when asked to confidently and positively identify a plant as either Aloe or Haworthia. At first glance, these spiky, green succulents can look like different varieties of the same species, but there are a few key characteristics to look out for.

At one time, they were considered to be close relatives, due to their similarities in appearance, but as botanists have learned more about them, they’ve divided the two into different genera. However, they are related closely enough that they can be crossbred to create hybrid succulents.

Table of Contents

Similarities Between Aloe and Haworthia

Unless you know the features to look out for, telling the difference between these two plants can be nearly impossible. Both plants can be similar in appearance and typically require similar care. Both Aloe and Haworthia are native to Southern Africa and have triangular-shaped leaves in various shades of green.

The patterns on the leaves can also add to the confusion. Depending on the species, the leaves may be a solid color, or they may be striped or mottled. Both Aloe and Haworthia come in a variety of patterns, so this is not an accurate way to differentiate them.

This Haworthia Fasciata from Mountain Crest Gardens can easily be mistaken for an Aloe if you don’t know the features to look out for.

Both plants also have a habit of turning different colors when they are kept in stressful environments. Their leaves may yellow or turn brown if they aren’t receiving the proper amount of sunlight. The leaves will change from their normally healthy green color if the plant is receiving too much sun, but they will also become discolored if the plant is not receiving enough light.

Both Aloe and Haworthia, like most succulents, do best with infrequent but deep watering. To prevent the roots from rotting, the soil must be allowed to dry completely before being watered again. As with many succulents, overwatering must be avoided to maintain a healthy plant.

Neither of these plants are particularly difficult to propagate. Healthy plants of both species will produce offsets, or pups, which can be cut off and placed in another container to take root. Even relatively inexperienced gardeners can successfully grow both Aloe and Haworthia using this method.

Hybrids

To add to the confusion, Aloe and Haworthia can be hybridized. These hybrids are sometimes known as Alworthia and are rising in popularity with fans of hybrid succulents. Hybrids are usually created with the idea of combining the best features of both species. Unfortunately, it can make the identification of such plants a little difficult.

The most popular hybrid is a cross between Aloe speciosa and Haworthia cymbiformis. Commonly referred to as Black Gems, the leaves of these succulents can vary in color from vibrant green to deep reddish-purple. As you might expect, the leaves are thick and triangular in shape and the plant produces many offsets, usually in a large clump.

Differences Between Aloe and Haworthia

Haworthia, such as this Haworthia retusa from Leaf and Clay, tend to stay quite small compared to most Aloe.

Size

One of the most notable differences between Aloe and Haworthia is the size. At maturity, Haworthia tend to stay quite small, usually just a few inches in diameter, but some species can grow rosettes up to 12 inches in diameter. As houseplants, they make great container plants and you can often fit several Haworthia into one container, creating a lovely succulent arrangement. The rosettes of Haworthia also tend to be somewhat compact.

Aloe on the other hand, can grow much larger. Many species can reach several feet in both height and diameter. However, there are a few species of Aloe that are arborescent, meaning their long stem gives them a tree-like appearance. Some can even grow up to 30 to 40 feet tall! Some species can also appear stemless, but their leaves are often long and reaching compared to those of Haworthia. Depending on the species and the climate, Aloe can thrive either in containers or planted in the ground.

Flowers

While you can’t use this method year-round, the flowers of blooming Aloe and Haworthia are another easy way to tell the difference between the two. It may take some time for the plant to bloom, but once it does you should have a definite identification for your plant.

Haworthia flowers tend to be quite petite and are always white in color. Depending on the individual species, they may also have small green or brown striations. They are somewhat tubular with wide, open ends.

The flowers of Aloe plants, however, are generally larger and more tubular in shape than those of Haworthia. Although they are sometimes white, they also come in a variety of other colors, depending on the individual species. Aloe flowers can be red, yellow, orange, pink, or some combination of these shades. If you have colorful flowers, you can be certain the plant is an Aloe.

You can identify this Gold Tooth Aloe from Mountain Crest Gardens by the spiky teeth along the leaf margins.

Leaf Margin Teeth

Perhaps the best way to determine whether a plant is an Aloe or Haworthia is to check for teeth along the leaf margins. If the teeth are not obvious, you can try running your finger along the edge of the leaf. If you feel small, rough spikes or teeth, the plant is an Aloe. The teeth are not particularly sharp, like cacti, but be sure to touch the plant gently nonetheless.

Haworthia do not have teeth along the margins. If you run your finger along the leaf’s edge and it feels smooth, the plant is most likely a Haworthia.

There are a few varieties of Aloe, however, that do not have margin teeth, but those species tend to have other features that distinguish them from Haworthia, such as size. Some species of Aloe may also not have teeth around the entire margin of the leaf, but if you see teeth at any point on the leaf margin, you can be sure that you’re looking at an Aloe (or maybe an Agave, but that’s a topic for another time).

Now that you’re an expert in plant identification, you can go ask your local nursery if they have any unlabeled plants they need help with to see if you can tell the difference between Aloe and Haworthia. If you’re not certain, you could be looking at an Aloe x Haworthia hybrid!

Both groups exhibit water-storing, succulent leaves arranged in rosettes. These leaves are often adorned with spines or other protrusions aimed at deterring herbivores. Both groups also utilize CAM photosynthesis for their energy needs. When it comes time to flower, both groups frequently produce brightly colored, tubular flowers arranged at the tip of long stalks.

It is worth noting that the harsh environments that have shaped these two plant lineages also seems to have induced a backup plan for reproduction. Both Aloe and Agave produce tiny offshoots called “pups.” These pups gain nourishment from the parent plant until they are large enough to fend for themselves. All pups are clones but if the parent plant had what it takes to survive in that spot, there is a good chance that its cloned offspring will as well. That way, even if sexual reproduction fails, these cloned progeny will get another shot.

Despite all of this convergence, these two lineages nonetheless exhibit vastly different developmental pathways and thus there are plenty of differences separating the two. For starters, slice into the leaves of each type and you will quickly find one major morphological difference. As many already know, Aloe leaves are largely filled with a gooey pulp and not much else. Aloe leaves function as water storage organs. Agave also store plenty of liquid in their leaves, however, they also produce numerous long strands of fiber that provide much more structural integrity.

With similar looks, it’s easy to see why distinguishing between an Agave and an Aloe Vera plant, or any species of Aloe for that matter can sometimes be hard. This article will get you up to speed about Agave vs Aloe Vera so you’ll be able to tell them apart and care for both plants.

Agave vs Aloe Vera: Agave are typically larger and have sharp spines on their leaves, whereas Aloe Vera leaves are serrated, but not sharp. Agave leaves are fibrous and Aloe Vera leaves are thick, fleshy and filled with clear gel. They have different origins and lifecycles, but similar care needs.

Keep reading because we take a more detailed look at both the differences and similarities of Agave and Aloe Vera plants.

Agave vs Aloe Vera – Origin And Family

Agave and Aloe Vera plants are both adapted to grow well in tropical, semitropical and arid climates. However, they are both native to different regions of the world, although the growing conditions are the same.

Origins

Agaves are native to tropical and hot, dry and arid regions of the Americas, including the Southwestern United States. Whereas, Aloe Vera is native to Africa, although with its ease of propagation through transplanting and 6,000 years of medicinal use, pinpointing an exact region is questionable at best.

Aloe Vera has a long travel history, journeying to the islands of the Caribbean and South America with Spanish explorers. The plant’s medicinal use is referenced in Greek, Roman, Indian, Egyptian and Chinese cultures and still today, it continues its journey, as friends and neighbors share Aloe Vera babies with others.

Family

Agave (Agave spp.) is a genus of perennial evergreen succulents that are members of the Asparagaceae family, the same family as edible asparagus. Like Aloes, it’s a large family with more than 166 different species. Some common or better-known Agave species or varieties are:

  • Blue Agave (Agave tequilana)
  • Century Plant (Agave americana)
  • Foxtail Agave (Agaveattenuate)

Like Agave plants, Aloe Vera is a perennial evergreen succulent, and is a species in the genus Aloe spp. and belongs in the family Asphodelaceae, which is the same family Haworthia belongs. The Aloe family is quite large, with about 580 different species and hybrids and Aloe Vera is just one of the many species. Some of the more common Aloe species include:

  • Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)
  • Fianarantsoa Aloe (Aloebellatula)
  • Torch Aloe (Aloe arborescens)

Agave vs Aloe Vera – Looks

Although Agave and Aloe Vera plants look similar, there are differences and once you know what to look for you’ll easily be able to distinguish between the two varieties.

All types of Agave plants form into a rosette made up of succulent leaves lined in sharp thorns and a sharp center margin. Although still considered a succulent, Agave leaves differ from Aloe Vera in that the inner leaf is very fibrous and not gel-like and gooey. In addition, and depending on the variety, leaf colors include green, blue-green, grayish-green and variegated or spotted in cream, yellow or gold.

When blooming, Agave plants send up a tall stalk from the center rosette that fills with small, tubular flowers. Unlike Aloe Vera plants, once an Agave blooms the mother plant dies, but the plant produces a wealth of pups.

Another difference between Agave plants and Aloe Vera is the mature size. Whereas Aloe Vera plants typically grow only several feet tall, depending on the variety of Agave, plants can grow anywhere from 1 foot to over 20 feet tall.

Aloe Vera

Like Agave plants, Aloe Vera forms into a rosette made up of thick and fleshy, green to greenish-blue leaves with some types having white speckles. The leaf margins are lined with small, white teeth. Unlike Agave leaves that are very fibrous on the inside, Aloe Vera leaves are fleshy with a gel-like substance. Additionally, plants aren’t thorny like Agave.

Aloe Vera plants bloom in summer, sending up a tall center stalk lined with yellow tubular flowers. Unlike Agave plants that die once they flower, Aloe Vera plants continue to thrive to bloom again another season. Like Agave, Aloe Vera plants reproduce with pups forming around the mother plant. At maturity, plants grow 1 to 3 feet tall.

Expert Tip: When it comes to telling the difference between an Agave and Aloe Vera plant, it’s all about the leaves. The Agave leaves are very fibrous and thinner, whereas the Aloe Vera’s leaves are thick and fleshy. If you feel an Agave leaf and compare it to the feel of an Aloe Vera, you can instantly feel the difference in each. Aloe Vera don’t have the hard, serious thorns like Agave.

Uses Of Agave And Aloe Vera Plants

Both Agave and Aloe Vera have centuries upon centuries of multiple uses in various cultures. Even in current times, both plants still are widely utilized for their benefits.

Agave plants have four main edible parts, including the flowers, foliage, the basal rosettes or stalks, and the plant’s sap, which is called augamiel in Spanish and means honey water. The ancient indigenous people of Southwestern America used the Agave as a major source of food.

One of the best-known products produced from the Blue Agave plant is the alcoholic beverage tequila. Agave flowers and stalks are roasted or baked and the boiled or ground leaves used for dietary fiber. The fibrous material produced by the plant is used to make rope. Ancient people used the hard thorns for sewing needles.

However, it should be noted that some people are allergic to Agave sap and should wear gloves when handling the plant.

For thousands of years, Aloe Vera has been promoted as a medicinal or cosmetic plant. Aloe Vera has been used to treat a range of medical conditions. Cosmetically, it’s used in shaving creams, makeup and other beauty products, soaps and shampoo.

You can even find Aloe Vera in various food products like yogurt, various desserts and beverages. Generally, all the products use Aloe Vera as promoting good health.

The scientific evidence of the benefits of Aloe Vera is generally quite weak. Evidence is strongest for the moisturising and emollient properties of Aloe Vera on the skin (1) (2). Topical products containing Aloe Vera are generally safe and are used in many topical cosmetic and medical products.

Unlike Agave plants that are edible, when taken internally, Aloe Vera has the potential to be toxic and negatively affect the digestive system. However, the toxicity may reduced if aloin is removed during processing.

Ornamental Uses

Agave and Aloe Vera are widely utilized as ornamental plants. Both perform quite well grown outdoors in frost-free climates. Additionally, smaller varieties of both plants are suitable to be grown as houseplants, although the Agave spikes on some may make you think twice about bringing one indoors.

When used as houseplants, Agave grows slower than Aloe Vera, meaning you can keep plants smaller and more manageable for longer periods. Aloe Vera is well suited as a houseplant but both plants require bright light to perform well indoors.

Outdoors, Agave and Aloe Vera plants work well used in water wise or desert gardens, as both have a high drought-tolerance. Both plants planted in mass make good barrier plants, especially with their thorny nature. Due to the thorns, you probably don’t want to use them to line a walkway. Smaller types do well in containers.

Larger growing Agave varieties make eye-catching specimens, especially when they send up their flower stalk that can last for months. Both Agave and Aloe Vera are welcome additions to wildlife or pollinator gardens, as hummingbirds and butterflies are drawn to the tubular blooms.

Blooming Aloe Vera (Left) and Agave (Right)

Agave vs Aloe Vera – Growth And Care Requirements

When it comes to growing and caring for Agave and Aloe Vera plants, both have the same requirements for hardy growth both indoors and outside. Additionally, their low-maintenance and high drought-tolerance make them a perfect choice for those wanting hardy plants that aren’t fussy.

Soil: When growing Agave or Aloe Vera plants outside in the ground situate both in soil that drains well. If growing in a container, use a well-drained potting mix or cactus blend. Don’t grow in soil that has a tendency to remain soggy or your plants will develop root rot and die.

Container: When selecting a container any type of material works well but make sure the bottom has drain holes. Consider the Agave or Aloe Vera’s size and use a container that won’t tip over due to the plant being top heavy.

Light: Whether growing your Agave and Aloe Vera indoors or outside, it needs plenty of light to grow well. Light conditions that are too low produce leggy plants. Outdoors, plant in a sunny site and if growing your plant indoors, place in a sunny location.

Temperature: Both Agave and Aloe Vera plants grow as perennials in a consistently warm outdoor location, as they don’t tolerate cold winters. Bring containers into a warm and sheltered location if you experience freezes in your locale. Indoors, situate both plants in a location with temperatures between 60°F and 85°F.

Watering: Once established in the landscape, Agave and Aloe Vera plants don’t require much water to thrive and have a high tolerance to drought. Watering every couple of weeks is sufficient. When grown in containers, both plants only require a drink of water once the potting mix has almost completely dried out. Whether grown outdoors or as a houseplant, too much water or soggy conditions will kill Agave and Aloe Vera.

Fertilizing: Although both aren’t heavy feeders, you can fertilize outdoor plants with an all-purpose blend in spring and summer. Feed indoor plants monthly with a half-strength, water-soluble blend for houseplants.

Pruning: Agave and Aloe Vera have low pruning needs. You can trim off spent flower stalks and dead leaves using sterilized pruning tools as needed.

Agave vs Aloe Vera – The Difference Is In The Leaves

Although Agave and Aloe Vera plants have such similar features, there are stark differences between the two plant types. However, and though it can be difficult distinguishing between the two, remember it’s all about the leaves.

Agave leaves are thick and fibrous, whereas Aloe Vera leaves are thick but fleshy. Aloe Vera leaves contain a gel-like substance and Agave leaves do not.

Plants Similar to Aloe

cactus haworthia image by MONIQUE POUZET from Fotolia.com

A lot of people know to rub aloe’s sap on a burn; perhaps that’s why so many folks recognize it visually. Other plants native to dry environments may seemingly masquerade as different aloes, but are different species altogether. Their growing needs mimic those of aloe: grow them in a frost-free area, don’t grow them in wet soil and provide lots of bright sunshine.

Also known as century plants, agaves (Agave spp.) resemble aloe plants especially if their leaves are narrow and the plant grows no taller than 12 to 20 inches. Even though the plant is a succulent, agave leaves typically grow more flatly like a speared tongue and the fibrous leaves bear much more voracious spines. An agave tolerates even drier soil and arid air conditions than the aloe, but appreciates soil moisture in the hottest part of the summer. Foxtail agave (Agave attenuata), Parry’s agave (Aloe parryi), hedgehog agave (Agave stricta) and the thread-leaf agave (Agave filifera) may visually resemble an aloe. Agave plants die after the flower when mature, unlike aloes.

Dryland Bromeliads

Two groups of bromeliads native to arid regions resemble the aloe. Even their flower spikes look like those of aloe. Dyckia and Hechtia comprise over 150 species of rosette-forming succulents with strappy leaves and sharp teeth, all native to arid regions in the U.S. Dyckia produces a tall flower spike topped in orange to yellow tubular flowers that hummingbirds pollinate. The Dyckia remains perennial, not dying after flowering. Hechtia flowers are creamy white and the plant dies after flowering.

Pineapple

Pineapple (Ananas comosus), also a bromeliad, grows into a tall rosette with long, strappy leaves and spines. At first glance, you may think it is an aloe until someone reveals this famous fruit plant’s name. The pineapple plant bears a club-like flower on a stem that ripens into the golden fruit. If no flower spike or or fruit is present, someone may not readily distinguish this bromeliad from a large aloe. Unlike aloe, pineapple plants die once the fruit develops.

Haworthia

Hailing from southern Africa, Haworthia plants look like tiny aloe plants, growing no taller than 3 to 8 inches tall. Their leaves form a rosette and may or may not feel soft and fleshy to the touch. Leaves of two species, Haworthia attenuata and Haworthia fasicata, display zebra-like white markings on leaf undersides. Haworthia tessellata leaves look like pointed lizard tongues that are plump and succulent. These plants do flower, producing tiny tubular or funnel-shaped pink to white blossoms on wiry upright stems. Like aloe, they continue growing after flowering and seeding.

Agave Or Aloe – How To Tell Agave And Aloe Apart

We often purchase succulent plants that are improperly labeled and, sometimes, there is no label at all. One such situation can occur when we buy agave or aloe. The plants look similar and, if you’ve not been growing them both, it is easy to get them confused. Read on to learn more about aloe and agave differences.

Aloe vs. Agave Plants – What’s the Difference?

While they both require similar growing conditions and care (drought tolerant and love full sun), there are huge internal differences between aloe and agave, and it is important to know them in some situations.

For instance, aloe vera plants contain a medicinal liquid we can use for burns and other minor skin irritations. We wouldn’t want to try removing this from an agave. While the appearance of the plants is similar, agaves are used to make rope from fibrous leaves while the inside of aloes contain a gel-like substance.

Aloe juice is consumed in various ways, but don’t do this with agave, as one woman found out the hard way after accidentally eating a leaf from an American agave, thinking it was aloe. Her throat went numb and her stomach required pumping. She did recover from ingesting the poisonous plant; however, it was a painful and dangerous mistake. Just one more reason to know the difference between aloe and agave.

Further aloe and agave differences include their points of origin. Aloe originally comes from the Saudi Arabia Peninsula and on Madagascar, where it eventually spread and developed through the Mediterranean area. Some of the species’ development resulted in winter growers while others grow in summer. Interestingly, some aloes grow in both seasons.

The agave developed closer to home for us, in Mexico and the American Southwest. An example of convergent evolution, aloe vs. agave are only distantly related from possibly the times when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Their similarities began some 93 million years ago, according to researchers.

How to Tell Agave and Aloe Apart

While the similarities can cause confusion and evoke danger as mentioned, there are some easy ways to physically learn how to tell agave and aloe apart.

  • Aloe has multiple flowers. Agave has only one and often dies following its bloom.
  • The inside of aloe leaves is gel-like. Agave is fibrous.
  • Aloe lifespan is approximately 12 years. Agave specimens can live up to 100 years.
  • Agave are larger than aloe, in most cases. There are exceptions, such as with tree aloe (Aloe bainesii).

When in doubt, don’t consume the plant unless you are positive it is an aloe. The gel inside is the best indication.

For those who do not occupy plant-related spaces on a regular basis, Aloe Vera is typically the only plant one thinks of when thinking of Aloe. But Aloe Vera is simply one type of plant that exists under the “Aloe” umbrella. Similarly to how Boston Terrier is only one of the types of canines that exist under the “dog” umbrella. For people who love plants and wish to turn their own home into a greenhouse of sorts but live in low light environments, travel frequently, and find raising plants difficult to do, the plants of the Aloe family can be a wonderful, simple, and low-maintenance way of stepping into the plant world. This article lists ten different types of aloe for the home and/or garden as well as how to care for each of them in order to give them their best life.

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10 Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is the poster child of the Aloe family. Everyone knows its name and is often the first (or even only) plant one thinks of when thinking of the Aloe plant.

Though succulent plants are relatively low maintenance and require little care, they are still living organisms and need nourishment in order to survive or even flourish. Aloe Vera plants placed inside pots or other forms of planter containers need to be kept well-drained, in a sandier potting soil, and requires a fair bit of sunlight/daylight.

9 Aloe Perfoliata

This type of Aloe can be identified by its shorter leaves and floral formation. From above, it appears like a green rose with pointed petals and likes to grow in clusters with its siblings. In order to care for the Aloe Perfoliata plant, one needs to ensure that this plant does not sit in stagnant water as overwatering the plants can cause serious issues for the plant. If the plant begins to tip over, it requires replanting. This plant needs soil with a heavy mix of sand and pebbles and requires access to bright natural light.

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8 Aloe Brevifola

Similar to the Aloe Perfoliata, the Aloe Brevifola is known for its short leaves and rosetta appearance. These plants prefer a warm and dry climate when grown outdoors, but indoor planted growth is also a viable option for these plants and they can easily flourish in these environments with the proper care.

In order to properly care for the Aloe Perfoliata, one only needs to follow the following rules. Do not allow this plant’s soil to stay moist/wet on a consistent basis. This plant only requires very light and minimal watering as well as access to bright natural light.

7 Aloe Ferox

This type of Aloe is one of the more visually stunning types. Though the traditional short green plants are beautiful in their own way, the brilliant orange colors of the Aloe Ferox’s single flower is both unique and incredibly aesthetically pleasing. The Ferox tends to grow in a more solitary fashion than the other plants on the list and requires a bit more care as well. The Ferox requires a sandy/loamy soil and space to grow. It requires full access to natural sunlight and a well-maintained drainage system.

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6 Aloe Bakeri

The Aloe Bakeri is one of the more resilient and low-maintenance plants in the Aloe branch of the succulent family. If one is cursed with the anti-green thumb and finds growing plants to be a true challenge but still loves the look of genuine plants over plastic, the Aloe Bakeri is a wonderful place to start.

The Bakeri simply requires a glass terrarium like casing in the winter, small drops of liquid fertilizer during major growth periods, and very minimal watering.

5 Aloe Ciliaris

The Aloe Ciliaris is another type of Aloe plant that typically produces colorful and bright flowers during most growth phases. The flowers that grow on this plant appear like a tube-like and typically orange version of the hanging flowers seen in other plants such as Foxglove or Bluebells. The Aloe Ciliaris is also a unique type of aloe as it is known to “climb” upwards if given the chance. This wonderful plant requires moist but sandy soil and room for the climbing to occur.

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4 Lace Aloe

Lace Aloe plants are a smaller succulent that typically appears like the Chrysanthemum flower and grows in a tight rosetta formation. These types of aloe plants are very commonly grown indoors as house plants and can thrive in these types of environments due to their low maintenance nature and minimal needs.

The lace Aloe succulent plant is a wonderful starter plant for someone living in a space that does not get a large amount of natural light as this plant thrives with minimal light. The lace aloe simply requires enough watering to keep the soil moist.

3 Aloe Camperi

The Aloe Camperi, also known as the ‘popcorn aloe,’ prefers to grow in colonies with its siblings when given the chance; though can also thrive on its own. This plant produces brightly colored orange flowers during certain growth phases and requires little to no care. These plants thrive in both low light and well-lit areas and require the bare minimum when it comes to watering. In fact, they are relatively drought resistant and prefer drier climates. They are the perfect plant for someone with a busy schedule or who often travels for moderate periods of time.

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2 Aloe Humilis

This lovely little succulent can easily be identified by the white speckles on their long and twisting leaves. If left to grow on its own with minimal grooming, the plant will grow in a rosetta formation and bloom beautiful fire colored flowers.

Fun fact: like Aloe Vera, the substance found in the leaves of this plant can be an effective home remedy for sunburns and other forms of minor surface burns. This plant requires a bit more watering than other forms of aloe but needs the ability to drain out excess water and the soil should only ever be moist to the touch- never wet.

1 Candelabra Aloe

The Candelabra Aloe is a strong type of Aloe that can grow up to five feet tall if given the chance and room to do so. These aloe types are known to bloom beautiful flowers during certain growth phases which grow on long stems that raise the flowering sections high above the rest of the plant. Though unique in appearance, the Candelabra Aloe is basic in care. Though it prefers outdoor areas, it can thrive indoors if given the proper care. The Candelabra Aloe requires a sandy and dry soil in the summer and moist soil in the winter as well as room to grow vertically and an abundance of sunlight.

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About The Author

Zooey Norman is a 24-year-old writer, Hufflepuff, and media enthusiast. This wide-eyed bookworm spends her days rereading the same books she has had since childhood, loves nothing more than a good behind the scenes featurette, and never manages to finish her tea before it gets cold. Zooey’s first book, “Lavender Reverie” is now available to purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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