Aloe vera, a thick, long-leaved plant native to Africa, can now be found across the globe. Although once unique to the African continent, aloe vera is becoming an increasingly familiar sight in many other places around the world like the West Indies, the Middle East and Australia; the succulent plant also makes frequent appearances in North American windowsills, nurseries and health food stores, its increase in location coinciding with the plant’s growing popularity in the gardening and medicinal world. Recognized as both a decorative plant for the home and a natural healing agent and toxin for the body, aloe vera has many uses, its multifaceted nature accounting for much of its spread to other regions. No longer is aloe vera a foreign, African plant: as the plant continues to be naturalized, spreading and growing in new environments, it will become an even bigger global force to be reckoned with.
Where to Find Aloe Vera: Its Native Home
Aloe vera is not found in the wild: it is the result of human cultivation. The African continent, however, is said to be the hometown of this spiky plant, as Northern African has some naturally-growing species of aloe that resemble the domesticated aloe vera (Davies, 2000). Although most botanists therefore trace aloe vera back to the dry soil of Africa, some voice another theory: Yemen, a country on the Arabian peninsula in Southwest Asia, might be an original site of aloe vera, says Dr. Nigel Hepper, a senior botanist, now retired, at Kew Gardens. Because aloe vera grows there and little evidence suggests that it was artificially planted, Yemen might just be a contender (Lawless 2000). Egyptian records, however, tend to have the final word on the matter: 6,000 year-old stone carvings from Egypt show the revered plant being used there, as aloe was given as a gift to deceased pharaohs (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012). The anatomy of the aloe vera also suggests that it has its roots in an environment more like that of the African continent. Known for being sunny, hot and arid, the African climate accounts for many of the plant’s needs and preferences–direct sunlight, minimal watering, a sandy potting soil, etc.–as the plant is adapted to grow in such harsh conditions (Davies, 2000; Lawless, 2000).
Naturalization: The Spread of Aloe Around the World
Aloe vera is no longer an African treasure, as the plant has been introduced to new environments. According to Davies (2000), aloe vera is now found in many areas around the world:
- North Africa
- the Middle East
- the Far East
- the Mediterranean
- the West Indies
- Central and South America
- the United States
Because the environments of many of these regions differ from the African conditions to which the aloe is accustomed, aloe vera growers have found success cultivating the cactus-like plant in a greenhouse setting, which allows the plant to grow in a wide variety of places (Davies, 2000). From backyards, windowsills, medicine cabinets and store shelves, the aloe vera plant also pops up in many different locations within a region. The aloe vera plant is available in many forms, including a pill, gel and liquid, to satisfy the diverse uses of the plant. Aloe vera is spreading around the world so that more people can benefit from the plant’s beauty and medicinal potential.
Davies, J. R. (2000). Aloe vera. Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books Limited.
Lawless, J., & Allan, J.(2000). Aloe vera: Natural wonder cure. Great Britain: Woolnough Bookbinding Ltd.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012, April). Aloe vera. Retrieved from