Aloe ferox

Botanical name

Aloe ferox

Other names

Bitter aloe; bitteraalwyn (Afrikaans); inhlaba (Zulu); ikhala (Xhosa)




A single stem aloe, up to 5 m tall in unusually large specimens

Description of stem

Tall, unbranched and erect, covered in old dry leaves that hang down

Description of leaves

Broad grey-green leaves with sharp spines on the edges, sometimes there are also spines scattered along both leaf surfaces and a distinct row of spines on the keel ridge; leaves may be reddish in dry conditions

Description of flowers

Spectacular inflorescence consists of multiply branched upright racemes; flower colour mainly brown-red, but many variations ranging from bright red, orange, yellow and almost white occur, usually in winter, but later in the more northerly parts of the plant's distribution area

Description of seed/fruit


Description of roots



Flower colour variation; Aloe candelabrum (Kwazulu-Natal) (now also classified as A. ferox) is different in that the leaves recurve and flowers colours may be more brightly red

Propagation and cultivation

Transplants easily; grown from seed, lightly covered in well-drained soil, young plants may rot from over-watering, although A. ferox is in general water tolerant; full sun


Grows in dry as well as high rainfall areas


An important medicinal plant harvested for, among other things, production of a purgative, applied in the treatment of wounds and in treatment of a variety of other ailments; comparable to aloe vera in vaue for yielding useful chemical substances; has been providing income to rural harvesters who collect the leaf exudate (sap); leaves being removed from the lower part of the plant and stacked in a circle around a hollow in the ground where the sap collects over a period; sap collected from plants in the natural state is preferred by organic product users; a low fat aloe ferox based yoghurt has been marketed in South Africa; skincare products are manufactured from the exudate, as well as a range of natural medicines;  aloins are extracted from the leaves; in addition, a popular garden plant, often used in public gardens, whilst plantations fof A. ferox for pharmaceutical use may be on the increase commercially

Ecological rarity

Common; comments have been found in the literature regarding excessive boer goat browsing of the plants, thus threatening the plant in certain arid regions; over-harvesting of leaves may also cause some threat to the plant population

Pests and diseases



This plant has apparently been used medicinally in the distant past by indigenous populations, particularly the San people; also said to have been used by the Egyptians as an embalming fluid; Aloe ferox attracts several bird species; the plants are sometimes damaged by baboons seeking nectar


Occurs in different habitats including on mountain slopes, rocky hills, bushy plains, certain Karoo veld and fynbos areas

Distribution (SA provinces)

Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State


South Africa, Lesotho, further north in Africa?