Tiger aloe (Gonialoe variegata) takes the beautiful shape and adaptability of traditional Aloe vera but has wide leaves in dramatic dark and medium green irregular horizontal stripes inside blunt, white-toothed margins. The underside of the leaves have a thick white ridge.
In the summer, a tall stalk, known as a raceme, of orange-pink blossoms might emerge from the tight rosette of leaves. Houseplants might grow a flower spike in summer or winter, if they flower at all.
The plant grows to about two feet tall when in bloom. It’s native to South Africa and Namibia but is grown throughout the world in warm areas.
It’s perfectly happy indoors and out, in direct sun or low indoor light, and in temperatures as low as 40°F. It’s like a more dramatic aloe that tolerates a wider range of conditions.
- Genus: Gonialoe
- Species: variegata
- Native To: South Africa and Namibia
- Sun Exposure: Direct morning light or bright, indirect light
- Soil Preference: Sandy, well-draining cactus or succulent mix
- Soil pH: 5.0-6.0
- Blossom Color: Pink and orange
- Growing Zones: 9-11
- Toxicity: Not toxic
Caring for Tiger Aloe:
Also known as partridge breast aloe, G. variegata was previously known as Aloe variegata. Don’t confuse it with G. dinteri or G. sladeniana, to which it’s closely related. It shouldn’t be confused with tiger tooth aloe (A. juvenna), either. They have similar names, but they’re different plants with different needs.
These plants are slow-growing and might take a decade to reach their full height. Plants started from seed might not flower for up to seven years.
The plant was discovered by Europeans in 1685 and was cultivated in the Dutch East India Trading Company garden in Cape Town, South Africa. From there, they were introduced to Europe and became instantly popular.
The plant’s name in Afrikaans is kanniedood, which means “cannot die.” That’s how resilient this plant is.
While it’s not toxic or irritating to the skin, don’t try using the gel medicinally. It doesn’t have the same medicinal value as Aloe vera.
Many succulents need lots of bright, direct light to thrive and flower. Not tiger aloe. That’s one of the things people love about it. It can thrive in lower light. Of course, thriving isn’t the same as preferring, so let’s talk about the ideal situation.
Preferably, you’ll place the plant in an area with direct sun in the morning for several hours, meaning sunlight hits the plant’s leaves for up to four hours. Then, your tiger aloe will get bright, indirect light the rest of the day.
Bright, indirect light is the kind you get if you stand right next to a window receiving direct sunlight if the window were uncovered, but with a sheer curtain over it. This diffuses the light to prevent burning.
That kind of specific situation is hard to re-create, so it’s understandable if you’re looking for something a little less specific. Tiger aloe is adaptable, so as long as you provide bright, indirect light for at least six hours, your plant will be happy. A corner near a west-facing window, but out of direct sun, or near a north-facing window will work fine.
Plants that don’t get enough light will become leggy, and the leaves will have a pale color. This is known as etiolation. Move the plant into more light if this occurs, and cut off any wilting leaves.
Soil and Container
Tiger aloe is a succulent plant that has developed resources to deal with a lack of moisture. It isn’t adapted to standing water or constantly wet roots. That means you want to provide soil that is loose and well-draining. Any soil that retains moisture will potentially harm your tiger aloe.
There are many succulent and cactus-specific mixes on the market made to accommodate plants that need arid conditions. If you don’t want to buy soil, mix three parts sand, three parts traditional potting soil, and one part perlite.
The same idea applies to the type of container you choose. You want something that facilitates good drainage. Any container material will work, whether it’s plastic, clay, or terra cotta, but it must have good drainage. Terra cotta and unglazed clay are ideal because they transpire readily, meaning there is less chance of waterlogging.
A solid container without a drainage hole won’t work. You should also choose a fairly small container that doesn’t have excessive room for the roots to help prevent overwatering.
The general rule of thumb is to use a container that is half the diameter of the leaves of the plant. So, if your plant is eight inches in diameter, choose a four-inch pot. You might need to move to a larger pot over time, but it will be much better for your tiger aloe’s health.
This is a drought-tolerant, succulent plant. That should tell you that it doesn’t need much water. You should allow the soil to dry out completely between watering. Whether you use a soil moisture meter or stick your finger in the soil, it shouldn’t feel moist at all when you water.
When you water, be sure to do so at the soil level or via bottom watering. If water drips down the leaves, it can get trapped in the areas where the leaves overlap, leading to rot.
Water and then test the soil with your finger. It should feel moist a few inches deep into the pot. If it doesn’t feel moist that deep, keep watering until it does.
These plants aren’t heavy feeders, but they do need nutrients now and then, especially since they’re in a container and don’t have access to the wealth of nutrients in the soil.
Find a cactus or succulent fertilizer with an NPK of around 5-5-5. Feed your plant once in the spring and once in the summer.
It’s possible to propagate this plant by seed. To do so, you can either buy fresh seeds from a reputable source, or you can harvest them from an existing plant that you have access to. To collect the seeds, allow the flowers to mature and fade. Once they fade, each bloom will form a pod with three seeds inside.
Remove the seeds and plant them as quickly as possible. The longer you store the seeds, the less viable they are. You also want to harvest the seeds before they’re exposed to any temperatures below 50°F.
Sow the seeds in flats filled with cactus or succulent potting mix. Spray the seeds with a copper fungicide to avoid damping off and press them into the surface of the soil. Mist the soil with a spray bottle and place the tray on a seed heat mat to maintain the soil temperature around 70-85°F. Place your setup under supplemental grow lights or in an area with at least six hours of bright, indirect light.
Keep the soil moist with the spray bottle.
Once the seedlings are two or more inches tall, you can transplant them into individual containers. Be patient, germination can take several months.
You can also propagate these plants by removing and replanting any offshoots, which are also known as pups.
This method is much quicker than growing from seed, but the downside is that you have to wait for the pups to form on the mother plant before you can remove them. This won’t happen for up to ten years because, if you recall, these plants are slow growers.
Once the pups are a few inches tall, you can remove them from the plant and put them in their own container by removing the mother from the existing pot and brushing away all the soil. Then, tease or cut the pup off the plant using a clean, sharp knife.
Allow the pup to callus over for a few days on the spot where you cut it. That just means allowing the plant to form a sort of scab to protect itself from rot or bad pathogens where you cut it. Place the pup in a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight.
Forming a callus can take at least a day but sometimes several days. If you touch the spot where you severed the plant and it feels dry and hard, it’s ready. If it’s still wet, give it a little longer.
Once a callus has formed, you can set the plant into a small container filled with cactus or succulent potting mix. Firm the soil around the base to keep it upright, but don’t bury the leaves in too much potting mix. Place the container in an area with bright, indirect light for at least six hours per day.
Water the soil when the top dries out. You want to keep the soil barely moist but not wet or soggy. If you imagine the texture of a well-wrung-out sponge, that’s what you’re aiming for.
Eventually, the pup will form its own roots, and you can treat it as you would any other tiger aloe.
You can also propagate this plant by leaf cuttings. This involves cutting off a leaf at the base using a sharp knife and allowing it to form a callus, as described above. Then, place the leaf in cactus or succulent potting soil and keep the soil moist. The leaf will develop roots in the same way a pup would.
You’ll know roots have formed if you gently tug the leaf and it resists. This isn’t a necessary step, but if you’re impatient and you want to know if the cutting is still alive, it’s a handy way to check. Allow it to start growing a few more leaves, and then you can re-pot it and grow it as any other mature tiger aloe.
These plants are incredibly low maintenance, which is part of their appeal. Other than removing any leaves that die or turn brown or yellow, you don’t need to do any pruning. You can remove the flower stem after it is spent if you don’t intend to harvest the seeds.
You should also replace the soil completely every five years or so. That’s because potting soil tends to compact and become hydrophobic, which means it repels water rather than absorbing it.
Remove the plant from its pot, dump out all the soil, and brush any soil away from the roots. Re-pot with fresh, clean potting soil.
Common Problems, Pests, and Diseases
Indoors, these plants rarely experience any problems. Generally, a plant that is stressed because of too much or too little water or sunlight is more susceptible to problems.
When it comes to pests, scale and mealybugs are the most common. Scale are sap-sucking insects from the order Hemiptera, suborder Sternorrhyncha. They look like little brown limps on the stems and undersides of the leaves.
Mealybugs are insects in the order Pseudococcidae. Like scale, they’re sapsuckers that feed on the inner juice of plants. They are often covered in a powdery white coating that makes a cluster of them look like white fungal growth.
Both can be removed by gently scraping them off the leaves using a butterknife or by dipping a cotton swab in isopropyl alcohol and wiping the alcohol on the insects. This removes their protective coating.
Root rot can occur on plants that are overwatered. This physiological condition occurs when the roots are sitting in too much water and essentially drown because they don’t have enough access to oxygen.
When this problem is present, the lower leaves will begin turning yellow and brown before dying. Under the soil, the roots turn black and mushy and rot away, depriving the plant of its ability to take up nutrients.
If you suspect root rot, remove your plant from its container and brush away the soil. Look at the roots and remove any that are soggy or black. Then, clean the container that the plant was growing in. Refill with pot with fresh, clean potting soil and re-pot the plant.
Reduce the amount of water you give them plant and don’t add any new moisture until the soil is completely dry.