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Aloe ciliaris (climbing aloe)

Aloe ciliaris is a South African aloe with barely succulent leaves and one of the most vigorous of the climbing aloes.
Orange flower of climbing aloe

Aloe ciliaris (Photo: Martyn Rix)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Aloe ciliaris Haw.

Common name: 

climbing aloe

Conservation status: 

Not considered to be threatened.


Dense, thorny thickets, often in dry river valleys.

Key Uses: 


Known hazards: 

The leaves are harmful if eaten by humans or animals.


Genus: Aloe

About this species

Aloe ciliaris is the most rapidly growing of all aloe species and makes a showy climber for a frost-free conservatory. Dr G.W. Reynolds, who was an authority on South African aloes, attributed the discovery of this species in 1813 to William John Burchell (1781-1863). A keen plantsman, and son of Matthew Burchell, who owned the Fulham Nursery near London. W.J. Burchell returned from South Africa to England with his collections in 1815, and A. ciliaris was described by the botanist Adrian Haworth in 1825. 

Climbing aloe has become a popular greenhouse plant in Britain and can be grown outside in milder gardens such as that at Tresco Abbey on the Isles of Scilly. Chromosome studies undertaken at Kew revealed three varieties of climbing aloe: A. ciliaris var. ciliaris, A. ciliaris var. redacta and A. ciliaris var. tidmarshii.


Discover more

Geography and distribution

Aloe ciliaris is native to the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, where it occurs from Uitenhage in the south to the Kei River mouth in the north-east, scrambling through thorny shrubs.


A scrambling, succulent plant with long, slender stems that can reach up to about 10 m long. The dark green leaves, edged with white teeth, are arranged in open spirals along the stems. It can be distinguished from related species by the white teeth on the leaf bases sheathing the stems. The reddish-orange, tubular flowers, each up to about 25 mm long, are borne in short, loose clusters and pollinated by sunbirds. The fruit is an oblong capsule.


Climbing aloe is cultivated as an ornamental.


Aloe ciliaris will not tolerate frost and must therefore be grown indoors in frost-susceptible regions such as Britain. Climbing aloe should be provided with some kind of support, such as a pyramid or trellis. Propagation is by stem cuttings or from seeds.

This species at Kew

Aloe ciliaris, including the variety A. ciliaris var. tidmarshii, can be seen in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew.

Alcohol-preserved, and pressed and dried specimens of Aloe ciliaris are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers, by appointment. The details of some of these, including one image, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

View details and images of specimens

Many of the botanical collections, drawings and manuscripts of William John Burchell, credited with the discovery of Aloe ciliaris, were presented to Kew by his sister, Anna Burchell.

Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

References and credits

Brandham, P.E. & Carter, S. (1990). A revision of the Aloe tidmarshii / Aloe ciliaris complex in South Africa. Kew Bulletin 45(4): 637-645.

Court, D. (2000). Succulent Flora of Southern Africa, Revised Edition. Balkema, Cape Town.

Hunt, D.R. (1978). Aloe ciliaris. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 182: tab. 763.

Reynolds, G.W. (1950). The Aloes of South Africa. Trustees of the Aloes of South Africa Book Fund, Johannesburg.

Van Wyk, B-E. & Smith, G.F. (1996). Guide to the Aloes of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 9 May 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Olwen Grace and Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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