You’ve heard of aloe vera, but have you seen a striped one? This eye-catching drought-tolerant succulent makes a beautiful houseplant, rock garden, or xeriscape addition.
Variegated tiger aloe is grown in almost the exact conditions as regular aloe vera. The striking zigzag stripes and tiny white teeth make this South African plant particularly popular in tropical landscaping and home decor. You can grow it outdoors in zones 9-11 or as a houseplant in colder areas.
Tiger aloe is remarkably easygoing and rarely requires water or care. This slow-growing succulent practically grows itself! Let’s dig into everything you need to know about cultivating and propagating these gorgeous striped aloes!
Gonialoe variegata (formerly Aloe variegata)
History and Cultivation
This compact succulent from South Africa was formerly known as Aloe variegata.
Tiger aloe is one of the most well-known and distinguishable aloes from South Africa. It is a dwarf aloe that rarely reaches taller than 10 inches, making it perfect for container plantings and small space rock gardens.
Previously called Aloe variegata, the plant was reclassified into the genus Gonialoe, derived from the Greek word gonia, meaning “angle,” and the subroot aloe from the Arabic alloch, meaning “bitter sap.” The v-shaped or angled leaves are distinctive from most aloes with smoothly rounded leaf undersides.
The Latin epithet variegata means “irregularly spotted,” which relates to the spotted bands on the leaves. Indigenous Afrikaans called the plant kanniedood, meaning “cannot die,” because the plant can survive many years without water.
What is Variegated Tiger Aloe?
It is a hardy dwarf species with distinctive white and green striped leaves.
Gonialoe variegata is an ultra-hardy drought-resistant dwarf aloe species with distinctive white and green zig zagged stripes on its leaves and uniquely white-toothed margins.
This succulent is native to southern Africa, growing in intense heat and dryness. It is hardy to USDA zones 9-11 but is most often grown as a houseplant in temperate climates. Its easy-going, succulent nature is perfect for beginner container gardeners.
In its native area, these aloes produce incredibly large summer inflorescences. The flowers are tubular and red, emerging from a thick center stalk. The bright blooms are full of nectar to attract sugarbirds and ants, which pollinate the aloes and help them produce fruits that split into three distinctive parts.
However, like most aloe plants, this species doesn’t always flower indoors because it doesn’t often receive enough bright sunlight to shift into reproductive growth. If it does produce flowers indoors, it will likely be in winter or spring.
Is It the Same as Aloe Vera?
Distinct from Aloe vera, this plant shares drought tolerance and succulent traits.
This plant is related to Aloe vera but is not the same species. Both plants are members of the Asphodelaceae family and share similar characteristics like drought tolerance, succulent leaves, and a love for warm sunshine.
Tiger aloe differs because it has green, irregular stripes on its leaves with blunt “teeth” lining the margins of the leaves. Sometimes called “soap aloe,” the sap was used to make soap. However, it does not have the same soothing gel as aloe vera. Its sap can be quite irritating to the skin.
Where Does It Originate?
This desert succulent is native to southern Africa.
Tiger aloe is a desert succulent native to arid regions of southern Africa, including Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The plant can withstand long droughts and salty, sandy, or gravelly soils. This dwarf aloe plant is related to Aloe vera and over 400 other species of aloe that have been identified in Africa.
How to Grow
Growing this plant is similar to aloe vera and most other succulents. It’s perfectly suited to anyone with a “brown thumb” because the plant is almost impossible to kill. The most common mistake is overwatering. This plant requires little attention, provided it has well-drained soil and warm sunlight.
Full sunlight is best, but it is adaptable to partial shade.
This succulent is native to southern Africa, so its love of sunlight should not be surprising. However, this plant is a popular, easygoing houseplant because it tolerates shade more than other aloes. Partial shade to full sun is ideal. I find they perform best near a south-facing window but not right up against the glass. Full sunlight is essential if you want it to produce flowers.
If your plant is pale in color, it may not be getting enough light. If it turns brownish-red, it may have been exposed to bright light too quickly, especially if it was previously growing in partial shade. When moving a tiger aloe from a different location, ease its transition by moving it gradually.
They thrive in dry conditions, needing minimal water and even enduring years without it.
Drought tolerance is where tiger aloe most excels! This succulent needs almost no water.
However, if you want the plant to remain pretty and vibrant in a small container, some watering helps. The key to succulent irrigation is always letting the soil dry out before you water again. Checking the soil with your finger is crucial to preventing overwatering. Always stick your finger in the dirt and only water if your skin comes out fully dry.
When pouring water over the plant, it should flow quickly through the soil and out of the container’s drainage hole. If it pools up, your soil needs more drainage.
If growing in the ground, water sparingly only in the summer and avoid irrigating if there has been rain. A reddish-brown hue may signify that the plant could use a drink.
Provide well-drained, rocky soil or a commercial cactus mix.
Tiger aloes thrive in rocky exposed areas and sandy deserts. Drainage is the name of the game! Commercial cactus or succulent mix is perfect for this plant, but you can also create your own with sand, grit, gravel, vermiculite, or perlite.
Avoid planting in heavy clay or excessively loamy soil. The plant doesn’t need much organic matter, and you do not want the soil to hold onto excess water.
Climate and Temperature
The succulent thrives in temperatures above 50°F but ideally between 65 and 80°F.
This African succulent despises the cold. It needs temperatures consistently above 50°F but preferably between 65 and 80°F. You cannot grow tiger aloes outdoors anywhere colder than zone 9. If growing in your home, move it away from cold window drafts during the winter.
Humidity is not ideal for this arid plant, as it can lead to rotting and mildew. If you grow more tropical houseplants like pothos or philodendrons, keep those in a separate humid area like a bathroom or a room with a humidifier. Pair it with other desert plants in hot, dry windowsills.
Fertilization is unnecessary if you use mineral-rich gravel or rocky soil.
No fertilizer is needed to grow this plant. Some house plant growers provide a diluted balanced fertilizer once per year, but it’s unnecessary if you’re growing in mineral-rich gravel or rocky soil. If you do fertilize, avoid doing so in the fall or winter because this is when the plants naturally go semi-dormant.
To maintain them, prune away shriveled or dying leaves and trim spent flower stalks after flowering.
The only thing you need to do to maintain a tiger aloe is pruning. Prune away shriveled leaves. Dried leaves are natural as long as entire sections of the plant are dying off.
If they are, there may be a bigger issue at hand, such as root rot or intense transplant shock. After the plant completes the flowering cycle, cut back the spent central flower stalk.
Tiger aloe is most popularly grown as a succulent in small containers. It is easy to propagate and expand your collection by offsets (“pups”), divisions, and sometimes by seed. The quickest way to propagate it is to remove an offset from the base of a mature plant and carefully replant it in a succulent mix.
Succulents produce “pups,” baby plants that grow alongside mature ones.
“Pups” is the cute slang name for baby succulents that grow off the side of mature “mother” plants. This asexual form of reproduction happens naturally as plants mature. The pups may look awkward or squished up against the original plant, so removing them is actually important to reduce overcrowding in small pots. Propagating pups is common for aloes and other succulents like Haworthia, Echeveria, and hens and chicks. A single plant can produce an abundance of pups throughout its lifetime.
The only problem with offset propagation is it requires some patience. If you don’t have a mature plant or your plant is stressed out, it probably won’t produce pups this season. If you have a mature plant that has started to produce offsets near its base, you’re ready to go!
To prepare for offset propagation:
- Choose a container with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
- Fill it with a well-drained succulent or cactus mix.
- Water the parent plant a couple of days before you plan to propagate.
- Slightly moist soil makes it easier to separate the offsets without damaging them.
- Inspect the base of the mature plant for the miniature versions of the adult plant.
- Offsets ready to propagate will be clustered off the center whorl of leaves.
- The small rosettes should be about 3-6” tall with plenty of leaves.
To remove and re-pot the pups:
- Use a small trowel or shovel to gently dig around the base of the offset. Avoid damaging the roots.
- With your hands, wiggle the offset until it appears to detach from the parent plant.
- You may need to use a sharp, sanitized knife to cut any attached parts.
- Check that the offset still has some roots attached. If it doesn’t have roots, you can treat it like a cutting, but it will take longer to establish.
- Air-dry the separated pup for one day. The cut or snapped roots need to callus over so they don’t rot in the new soil.
- Dig a small hole in the container about twice the size of the offset’s roots.
- Place the offset in the hole and backfill. Avoid covering any leaves with soil.
- Water (but don’t drench) the baby plant.
- Place the offset in an area with bright, indirect sunlight to let it root and adapt.
- In one week, gradually introduce the plant to more sunlight so it doesn’t get sunburnt.
New growth is the best sign that a pup has been successfully propagated. Protecting the plant from intense sunlight during the first few weeks is very important. Gradual acclimation is key. If you are propagating multiple offsets, space them at least 4-6” apart in the new container.
Divide by separating the plant into smaller sections with their own rosettes and roots.
Once a variegated tiger aloe reaches its full size, it can be divided much like other perennials in your garden. Division is simply separating the plant into smaller sections, each with their own rosettes and roots.
The best time to divide an outdoor plant is in spring or summer. Indoor plants can be divided at any time of year but are more likely to take off with new growth in the spring. Propagating by division is similar to separating offsets, except that you will pull apart entire mature rosettes from the plant.
- Generously water the parent plant 1-2 days beforehand so the plant undergoes less stress.
- Use a small shovel or trowel to gently dig around the base of the plant (if in the ground).
- Avoid damaging or cutting the roots.
- Gently lift the entire plant from the ground or the container.
- Shake off excess soil so you can clearly see the roots.
- Use a sharp, sanitized knife or shears to cut the plant into sections. Each section should have a robust set of leaves and roots.
- Optionally, prune any long or unwieldy roots back so the plant will redirect its energy to establishing new ones after transplanting.
- Lay the divisions on a dry towel away from direct sunlight so they can air dry for a day.
- Check that the cut root ends form a callus. This ensures they don’t rot when planted.
- Plant each division in the new garden bed or container, fully covering the roots.
- Water sparingly and let the soil dry between watering sessions as the divisions acclimate.
- If growing indoors, protect new divisions from direct sunlight to prevent sunburn.
- Gradually introduce them to full light, just like with young offsets.
Growing from seed allows for increased genetic diversity.
All succulents can technically be propagated by seed, but it is fairly uncommon because asexual propagation is much easier. However, growing from seed ensures more genetic diversity and is a cheaper method to grow many tiger aloes from scratch.
The seeds look like strange, winged seed pods that naturally fly off into the air if left on the plant. But if you collect them or purchase them from a specialty seed company, the seed pods will likely be separated from their wings. The pods split open and release tiny brown seeds that can be sown indoors or directly seeded in the garden.
To sow seeds:
- Prepare a seedbed or shallow container that is very well-drained with lots of sand, gravel, vermiculite, and/or perlite.
- Plant the seeds by pressing them into the surface of the soil.
- Succulent seeds typically require light to germinate, and this species is no exception. Don’t cover them!
- Provide moderate moisture until they germinate.
- When they have a few sets of true leaves and are large enough to handle (about 2”), gently transplant them to individual containers.
Avoid overwatering! These hardy plants naturally germinate and grow in very arid environments. The germination process can take a few weeks to several months, so patience is key. This is why it’s easier to propagate from pups or to sow indoors in regular seed-starting trays.
Once the seedlings sprout, treat them just like a regular aloe transplant.
Moving tiger aloes into a new container or outdoor location requires little effort, but it is important to be careful with their roots.
How to Transplant
Ideal aloe transplanting occurs during active growth in spring or early summer.
The best time to transplant aloes is in the spring or early summer when the plant is at an active growth stage. If there are any offsets, old flower stems, or withering leaves, remove them before transplanting.
Be sure you properly amend your soil so it’s extra well drained. Sand, grit, small gravel, vermiculite, and perlite are great options. You can also buy a pre-mixed cactus or succulent blend. Avoid planting aloes in heavy clay or rich loamy soil. They are desert plants and do well in rock gardens or even alongside some Mediterranean species,
The process is the same whether your plant is in a pot or in the ground:
- Gently loosen the soil and dig around the circumference of the plant.
- Grasp the succulent from its base and carefully lift it up. Support the bottom of the plant to minimize stress or pulling on the roots.
- Check that the roots are healthy. Trim away any rotten, mushy, or dead roots.
- Dig a planting hole about twice as deep and wide as the root ball.
- Place the plant in the center and spread the roots out in the hole to encourage it to grow outward and down.
- Backfill the gaps with soil, ensuring the depth is the same as it was in its previous location.
- Lightly water in, but don’t overwater.
- New plants appreciate a once or twice-weekly drink, but check that the soil is drying out in between.
If transplanting in a pot, follow the same gradual light introduction mentioned in the propagation section. You don’t want the leaves to get immediately blasted with bright light, or sun scorch may result.
These succulents are very resilient and usually don’t have any problems with transplanting. If you notice the plant is floppy or the leaves lose their shape, it could be a sign that the roots are damaged or rotten. Stress and transplant shock may also manifest as yellowing or browning.
They thrive in small pots around 4-6” and should be spaced 8-12” apart in rock gardens.
This is a dwarf aloe species that thrives in small pots about 4-6” in diameter. In a rock garden setting, plant tiger aloes 8-12” apart to ensure they properly fill in the area without getting overcrowded.
Gonialoe variegata is the most common species. It’s occasionally called Partridge breast aloe. An alternative hybrid to consider is:
Goniale x Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’
This variety produces a larger rosette with thicker, pale-hued leaves.
This tiger aloe is bred to look slightly frigid with pale or almost white-hued leaves. The plant was made by crossing the standard Gonialoe variegata with Gasteria ‘Little Warty’ to yield larger rosettes up to 12 inches across and thicker leaves with white margins.
If you live in zones 9-11 and want to design an outdoor rock garden, these plants thrive in the same dry, rocky soil and bright sunlight conditions.
A drought-tolerant succulent, the Sedum genus includes varieties like S. spurium and S. rupestre.
Stonecrop or Sedum is a diverse genus of succulent plants that tolerate drought and gravelly or sandy soils.
Beautiful varieties include:
- Sedum spurium: This low-growing stonecrop forms a nice mat for ground cover near tiger aloes and other desert plants.
- Sedum rupestre: Angelina stonecrop is very popular for its bright golden foliage.
- Sedum sieboldii: Also known as October Daphne, the blue-green scalloped leaves look beautiful alongside tiger aloe’s stripes. It produces bright pink star-shaped flowers in the summer.
Colorful succulents like Echeveria ‘Lola’ and ‘Perle von Nurnberg’ complement tiger aloes beautifully in containers.
These stunning succulents are popular for their rosette shapes and array of colorful varieties. They work well with aloes in containers or border beds.
My favorite cultivars are:
- Echeveria ‘Lola’: This lavender-pink leaved hybrid is contrasted with hints of blue, creating a colorful rainbow alongside dark green and white tiger aloe.
- Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’: Pastel lavender and pink leaves look elegant and swirly.
- Echeveria agavoides: Sometimes called lipstick echeveria, the leaves are distinctively tipped in red.
Similar to aloes, this plant shares identical growing conditions.
Agaves require exactly the same conditions as aloes. However, the Agave genus is quite large and diverse, so be sure to choose a compact variety that won’t overgrow your dwarf tiger aloe.
Popular picks include:
- Agave parryi: Parry’s agave is a compact rosette with blue-gray leaves and prominent spines.
- Agave americana: Also called century plant, this agave is a striking garden focal point.
- Agave victoriae-reginae: Queen Victoria agave is highly symmetrical clump agave and has dark green leaves edged in white, which looks really gorgeous alongside ‘Green Ice’ tiger aloe.
Pests and Diseases
This succulent is extremely resilient and is usually problem-free. If any issues pop up, here is how you can quickly deal with them:
Aphids can infest aloe plants, and the recommended treatment is using insecticidal soap.
These tiny sap suckers may hang out on the undersides of any aloe plant. An insecticidal soap or horticultural oil is the best way to eliminate them. You can also wipe the underside of leaves with diluted neem oil.
While many vegetable gardeners use a blast of water to remove aphids, I wouldn’t recommend it for this succulent because it could make the plant susceptible to rot. Tiger aloes do not like moisture on their leaves for very long!
These pesky pests create pale markings and webs on your tiger aloe.
The bane of a houseplant gardener’s existence! Spider mites may form pale markings on the surface of your tiger aloe and sometimes leave a fine webby texture. The mites can spread weird diseases and distort the flowers or leaves. Remove them with horticultural oil, just like aphids.
To avoid root rot, ensure the soil is well-drained and allow complete drying between waterings.
This is the most common yet preventable problem with these African succulents. Too much water or compacted soil can really harm the plant because it exposes the roots to disease-causing fungi that turn the roots to mush. Ironically, this prevents the succulent from taking up the little bit of water it needs and causes it to brown, wilt, and die.
The best way to prevent root rot is to grow in well-drained, gravelly soil and always check the soil before watering. Always let the soil fully dry out between waterings!
Tiger aloe lacks Aloe vera’s medicinal qualities and shouldn’t be used as a replacement.
This is an ornamental plant. It does not have the therapeutic properties of Aloe vera and should not be used as a substitute.
Although it looks exotic and intimidating, tiger aloe is another dwarf succulent that enjoys desert-like conditions. The most important thing to remember is that it enjoys drought. Let the soil fully dry before watering again.