The false aloes are intriguing hardy succulents. These are native to the U.S., particularly the eastern part of the country. They also occur in Mexico.
While some plant experts consider the false aloes to be a distinct group, others classify them as species of agaves. In any case, these plants belong to the Agave family. What sets these apart from the agaves is the thick, fleshy succulent leaves that resemble those of the common aloe. In fact, it is this resemblance that is responsible for their common name—false aloe.
Unlike the true aloes and the agaves, the false aloes or manfredas have deciduous foliage that dies back for the winter. These can be propagated by seed and by offsets. The hardy ones are good choices for garden beds and borders, while the tender species can be grown in container gardens.
There is one species of false aloe that is fairly widespread in the Southeast. Manfreda virginica goes by various other common names, including rattlesnake-master and America aloe. Hardy to zone six, it can be found from Ohio to Tennessee and Kentucky south to North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. It is found in both the mountains and piedmont of North and South Carolina. Its range extends westward to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
The false aloe occurs in the woods in the region as well as in granite outcroppings, slopes, dry woods, and thickets.
This species starts to bloom in late spring and continues into the summer. The yellow-green, scented blossoms can have touches of purple. These are tubular, and around two inches long. The blossoms open at night. The flower stalk can be over six feet tall. Unlike the agaves, the flowers are sparsely scattered along the height of the flower spike. These blooms release a sweet fragrance at night.
This species can have spiny teeth along the edges of the leaves. The foliage forms a cluster at the base. The leaves can be entire or very minutely toothed. They’re nearly 1˝ feet long
In addition to the species, there is a delightful colorful variety called tiger or tigrina. This has foliage that is beautifully mottled with purple. This contrasts beautifully with the green. This coloration pattern reminds me of the spring blooming trout lily.
This species has a thick, fleshy root, which was used by the Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
In addition to this widespread species, there are several other species that are slightly less hardy, including one with variegated foliage. Several of them are native to Mexico. There is also one that occurs in the state of Texas.