I will start today with a question from Jill Carter who writes... I acquired an Aloe a few years ago and of course it grew. It flowers, as is now. I have tried to identify it from the RHS BOOK but nothing quite fits the bill. We pulled off some dead bottom leaves the other day and now the flowers are drooping, de nada as the locals say. One said ‘not and Aloe as they do not have flowers’. I can easily take off a rosette to repot but do not know how best to water. One, the main stem seems brown where leaves were pulled off, should it be? The flowers are a pretty bell type, mainly pale yellow and tinged top and bottom. The leaves are spined. Lovely puzzle for you.
Thanks Jill, this is as good a way as any to start off the New Year!! The whole idea of gardening in Majorca is to discover some of the differences in gardening in Norther climates where many of us grew up and that of gardening here. To begin with the Aloe Vera cacti family does not grow naturally in the colder climate so we never grew up finding this cacti along the country walks as we do here. It was probably only known to those youngsters who bit their nails or sucked their thumb, and that was a tincture out of a bottle called ‘bitter aloes’ and to be sure we never knew it grew wild here.
The Aloe family is huge with many different types of leaf and flower, some a single plant others a mini bush like growth with dozens of little rosette type buds that you mention, these can be broken off to repot and form a new plant. It was ‘Googled’ for me and the pages seemed endless of all the different Aloes flowering ones and all. Now to that re-potted rosette, like most cacti it is easier to kill by over watering than by thirst but having said that all new cuttings of any plant will need moist soil to be initially planted in. Never leave the pot standing in water, it must have good drainage but will need to be damp until it is well rooted. As to the brown stem where the leaves have been pulled off, who knows what bruising may have occured, maybe since you wrote to the paper the plant is already repairing itself. Cacti on the whole are fairly sturdy plants that above all cope with the long dry periods of weather we have here. The Aloe in general, and we are not told which one, is now farmed and used in many cosmetics, we find creams, shampoo, deodorant etc, all with the name ‘Aloa Vera’ on the label. The flesh of the leaves when snapped off can be used directly onto mosquito bites as an instant relief from the itching and swelling frequently caused by the bite. It really is a useful plant to have either in the garden or on a terrace in this climate where we suffer invasions of mosquitos nearly all the time. It is very bitter to taste, obviously the reason it was used as a nail biting tincture so be sure to wash your hands after handling the plant.
One topic I rarely mention about gardening are those plants that can be poisonous, just starting with a couple of very popular shrubs. Datura, in full bloom now with its wonderful trumpet shaped flowers or the more delicate ‘frosty dawn’ whose flowers hang downwards like bells. No matter which variety every part of the shrub, flowers, leaves, sap and stems are all poisonous so be very careful when handling them and be sure to dispose of all cuttings. On the other hand, mentioning ‘cuttings’ this is one shrub that a simple cutting just popped into the soil, be it directly in the garden or in a pot will almost surely take root. My own shrubs are several years old and from one cutting I now have five different mature shrubs. Dare I mention an old local saying? If it's a stolen piece just nipped off the parent plant, not asking permission, it will be sure to take root!!
The other shrub I will mention is the Oleander which can be found in all its colours just about everywhere on the island. Although not exactly poisonous its sap can cause very uncomfortable skin irritations. It is a shrub I frequently recommend to cut right back during the winter months to enhance the following years growth, this is when one must be most careful not to get the sap on bare skin. There will surely be many other plants that one needs to be careful with but that is enough for today.