Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 7, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Probably most of you have at one time or another kept a pot of Aloe Vera in your home (Aloe Vera is both the common and scientific name). However, I'll bet that few of your plants ever flowered. Here in the land of no frost they're prettily flowering now, as you can below:

Aloe Vera, flowering

The above plant, growing up against a hot, south-facing hotel wall in Pisté, has succulent blades about knee high and flower clusters some four feet high. You can see some bees busily visiting the drooping flowers below:

Aloe Vera, flowers with pollinator

A longitudinal section of a flower showing six stamens of slightly differing lengths and an oval, small ovary, the future fruit, nestled at the base of the stamens at the picture's bottom left, is shown below:

Aloe Vera, flower longitudinal section

At the far right in that picture you might notice how the stamens' brown, baglike, pollen-producing anthers are attached to their yellowish, matchstick-like filaments at their backs so that the anthers can seesaw back and forth and swivel. Such back-attached anthers are said to be "versatile." When identifying flowering plants often it's important to notice how anthers are attached because the manner of attachment is fairly consistent within groups of plants. Many anthers are attached to the filament at their bottoms, and thus are "basifixed."

Anyway, this is the Aloe Vera of commerce, famous as a skin moisturizer, a shampoo base, an ingredient for laxatives and as a digestive aid, and many other purposes. Most of the world’s supply is grown in southern Texas and adjacent northwestern Mexico and the West Indies. Supposedly it's native to islands in the Atlantic. It's often cultivated outdoors in the southwestern United States, where it occasionally escapes. I like to keep a plant in case I get burned. Smear some Aloe Vera juice over a burn and it doesn't form blisters as readily as otherwise.

The Flora of North America assigns Aloe Vera to its own family, the Aloaceae, but other sources place it elsewhere. In school I learned it was in the Lily Family, but at Wikipedia it's put into the Asphodelaceae, which I've never heard of.