Care Diary: Aloe erinacea

aloe erinacea

Written ByJen Greene

Posted: October 13, 2021

This aloe is a show stopper in nearly every collection, particularly as they gain some size. They are slow growing, which contributes to some of what makes them so coveted: a large specimen is often 30+ years old, usually older. 

I picked mine up in 2019, and they have been a challenge to find reliably since. They do appear from time to time, but since the COVID plant bubble of 2020, they’ve been significantly more expensive. After growing mine for the last couple years, I can see why – they take quite a while to gain any size, and are sensitive to over watering and cold weather. 

Aloe erinacea

The plant left is a tidy, nicely grown specimen I encountered at a cactus and succulent show in 2019, and is part of why I decided to pick one up that year.

To get to that size, however, you’re looking at a few decades of care – this plant is easily at least 20 or 30 years old. 

Aloe erinacea has a fairly open rosette with pale greenish-gray flesh that curves gently towards the center, particularly in older or more stressed plants.

Spines on the leaves are glossy white when new, and darken to a brown/black color as they get older or the plant is exposed to more sunlight.

Aloe erinacea in habitat

Relatively recently discovered, only in the 1980’s, in the Namibian desert. 

They grow in very rocky soils, with lots of sand and inorganic material around them, at a decent altitude of about 3000 feet above sea level to 4400 feet. They’re pollinated by sugar birds, as well as a wide range of insects, due to the nectar produced by the flowers. 

In cultivation, hummingbirds and bees will enthusiastically visit the flowers, so if you want pure seeds, you’ll have to guard the flowers! 

Growing Aloe erinacea 

These are aloes that require an extreme amount of patience. If you’re grabbing seedlings now, you’ll have cool specimen plants by the time you’ve had children and they’ve moved out of the house! 

Because these aloes are both very slow growing and evolved to grow in very poor soil, the biggest challenge when planting and growing them is to avoid spoiling them. 

You should plant and grow your Aloe erinacea in a very well draining, airy mix of at least 50% inorganic material. Seek out pumice if you can, as it’ll hold up for a longer period of time and you won’t need to repot your aloe often. Expect to repot them every few years, at most – not because they’re sensitive to it but because they are so slow. 

aloe erinacea

Aloe erinacea, Jan 2019

I initially potted my erinacea in a pot that was far too large, expecting it to grow faster than it was capable of. Fortunately, what seemed to happen was that mine produced an extensive network of roots, rather than investing a significant amount of energy into new growth. 

If you’re setting up your own plant, pot it up into a pot only a little bigger than what it’s been growing in. If you got a plant in a 4″ pot, pot it into a 5″ pot, and expect that to be suitable for the next 2 to 3 years. 

I repotted mine into a mix that was close to my copiapoa mix; roughly 50% pumice, 25% cactus/succulent soil, and 25% decomposed granite, orchid bark, sand, and horticultural charcoal. Since doing so, it seems to be quite happy, although it did show signs of stress over the summer with exposure to lots of sun and a light watering schedule.  

Aloe erinacea

Aloe erinacea, February 2020 

Watering your Aloe erinacea

If you’re not in an area that’s quite hot and dry in summer, you’ll have to water cautiously during the hot months. When kept with partial shade, particularly for the hottest/brightest part of the afternoon, they need very little water. In the highly inorganic soil mix, watering every week or so is probably adequate, but if you have more organic material, every two or even three weeks may be all you need. 

They are not fond of being cold and wet, and what is probably the only reason I didn’t rot mine out the first year was that we had a fairly dry winter and my lazy watering schedule. Last winter, I watered it much less, and it seemed happier about it. 

Despite not being fond of cold weather, they are still winter growers, and if the balance of water and dry soil is appopriately maintained over the cooler months, you’ll see more growth in winter than summer. 

Aloe erinacea

Fertilizer and Light

 You should not need to fertilize your Aloe erinacea much, if at all. A light feed of a general cactus/succulent fertilizer at the start of cooler weather may be appreciated, but won’t really make your plant grow faster. 

I have grown my erinacea in nearly full sun and nearly full shade; I prefer the look of the plant when grown in about 50/50 sun and shade. 

At left is the aloe in October 2020, showing some lovely sun stress coloration and the slightly sunburnt tips that are black. 

I’ve only had my Aloe erinacea for a couple years, and it is still a ways away from being large enough to bloom. Flowers should be red, eventually turning yellow, and the aloe can be reluctant to bloom if not kept exceptionally happy. 

In the American Southwest (Arizona and southern California, namely), they can be grown in ground, but rarely are due to how well they do in containers and their susceptibility to being under or over watered if conditions aren’t quite right. 

aloe erinacea seedling

Aloe erinacea in March, 2019, not long after potting it in a pot that was way, way too big. 

aloe erinacea

Aloe erinacea in October, 2021. I’d intended to repot this in a smaller pot, but discovered that the root ball was much larger than I expected due to the size of the other pot, so it needed a relatively big pot to accommodate the larger roots. 

Aloe erinacea is a beautiful, easy going aloe that does well in containers if you have patience and a light hand with the watering can. 

If you have the patience to grow a seedling out, they’re well worth the wait, and it can be an affordable way to pick up a plant that can be hundreds of dollars to buy at a size large enough to bloom. 

You can follow along with my plants on my Instagram! @TrexPlants 

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