Aloe, ‘ow Are You?


Aloe

I always wanted to be a deejay. When I was younger, I had two turntables, a mixer, and crates and crates of vinyl records.

There was one small problem, though.  I never wanted to get fingerprints or scratches on any of the records — which was why my vinyl collection remained in pristine condition, and the only deejaying was in my own mind.

Still, when it comes to thinking up headlines for posts, I often turn to music for inspiration — and this post about my aloe was no different. I began with “Aloe, I Love You,” courtesy of The Doors — because, I do love this plant.

Mine was a gift from Joe’s sister, Donna. She gave it to me years and years ago — and for those years and years, it was a typical northern houseplant, a solitary presence in a clay pot, brought outside in summer and over-wintered indoors.

I was thrilled to have an aloe — practical and beautiful, medicinal and magical. Each day seems to bring about new wondrous uses for the gel inside each of its pointy, succulent leaves.

The problem is that snapping off an aloe leaf to soothe a burn or an abrasion was never my first thought. No, I’d rather run for a bandage or even a store-bought “aloe” lotion than risk damaging the plant.

It was my deejaying debacle all over again — although this time I knew my being a gardener wasn’t an imaginary mind game. I just didn’t want to take advantage of a plant. I wanted it to be pristine.

But something exciting happened after bringing the aloe to Florida, where this houseplant could stay out all year long. Of course, there was the initial shock, but in time, the green became more vibrant and smaller aloes began to pop up all around the mother plant.

Aloe

My clay pot for one had become my clay pot for many, and I wondered: Is this what aloe is supposed to do?  It actually makes more plants on its own?

Then, Adele arrived with this lyric, “Hello, from the other side” — and I began to contemplate what was happening beneath the soil of said clay pot. In other words: Aloe, from the underside.

Aloe

Just like removing a vinyl disc from its sleeve, I gently tapped the aloe from the only home it has ever known. And just like holding a record by its edges and turning it over to examine it for any imperfections, I observed and marveled at what was hidden by the clay pot.

The houseplant I had always counted on to be a solo artist was more like a member of a band.   Once unpotted, the lead singer — for want of a better term — had developed a lengthy root system, each one traveling in a circle to match the shape of the clay pot.

Aloe

It’s at this point that all record and deejaying analogies come to an end. While I may be a deejay in my mind, in reality, I’m a gardener —- and unlike my treatment of vinyl, I wanted to scratch at the soil, to separate the roots and smaller plants a bit, to clip and cut and leave my mark.

As I began, I first noticed that the thicker roots were actually runners, some of them ending with a small aloe plant — and each of these had its own set of roots and runners.

Aloe

Aloe

The larger of the small aloes were easily separated from the main plant, but the smaller ones needed some clipping.

Aloe

Aloe

Aloe

I lined up pots of all sizes, as well as some hollowed out coconuts, for planting — so that each of the aloes could be a star in their own right — and, in time, fill out and make more plants.

Aloe

Aloe

The aloe that started it all was returned to its clay pot, now a bit roomier, so that it too could once again produce more plants.

Aloe

At the end of the day, when it came time to reflect on what I had learned about aloe propagation and a headline, it seemed to make sense to name this post: “Aloe, ‘ow are you?” It’s really the question I asked myself — with a cockney accent, because a name like aloe kind of begs for that — whenever I looked at the clay pot filled with plants.

That being said, it’s time to bring my tale of aloe to a close — and in the sort-of words written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney: “You say goodbye, and I say aloe.”

29 thoughts on “Aloe, ‘ow Are You?

  1. Aloe, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?

    I had an aloe in college that I tried desperately (not to) kill. Leaning on its final, sad, wilted brown stems, I gave it to my mother – the accidental houseplant whisperer. Within a few months, her bathtub (for their winners were too cold for an outside recuperation) was full of nearly twenty aloe plants and the one previously mine was tripled in size and glowing proudly, as mothers do. My mother gave me one of the new plants and sent me on my way. It was dead within the month.
    I still mostly stick to outdoor gardening…

  2. Such a wonderful read! I live the record vinyl analogies. 😀

    I left behind two giant clay pots loaded with aloe from a friend’s garden back at my last house when we moved. I was sad to do it, but they were very heavy and I was pregnant and with toddlers. I’ve often thought about going back to see if they’re still there. Such blessed memories for a silly plant.

    • Hi Shannon. If it weren’t for pop culture references that constantly swirl around my brain, I don’t know where I’d be. 🙂 It’s never too late to get an aloe and start your kids on a learning adventure. . . 🙂

  3. I really enjoy your musical references, Kevin, and it is a very interesting comparison between how you cared for your LP’s and your reluctance to divide your aloe. Very funny! But I really do understand. I’m glad you’re experiencing the glory of how they proliferate. There are many other varieties of aloe and they are all tremendously rewarding. I recently found one at the Huntington Botanical gardens that was tinged in pink at the edges, and I absolutely have to find one! If I do, I’ll send you one of its “pups” once it gets going, if you’d like. Darwin our tortoise loves aloe, and I cultivate one or two plants just for him. I will say that it is hard for me to see him devour them. 🙂

    • Hi Debra. That would be fantastic. Since getting to know my aloe, I’m amazed at the variety. I’ve also spotted them growing in some yards here, and they do spread! Interesting that Darwin eats them. I was recently at a Farmers’ Market and a woman was selling edible aloe products! Aloe: Not Just For Tortoises, Anymore. 🙂

    • Hi Elaine. I’m finding that in South Florida, it’s a different type of gardening — and while I appreciate that plants help with the labor, I’m also glad that this gardener was able to adapt (although, I admit, I’m still a work in progress). 🙂

  4. You always entertain! Thank you from a kindred aloe plant cultivator. But, I have no problem lopping off a leaf to treat skin ailments. It’s hard to kill the plant and it feels better when helping us out!

    • Hi Maria. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I have a burn. I look at my aloe, straight in the greenery, and say, “This is going to hurt me a lot more than it does you.” 🙂

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