False Aloe

Manfreda virginica (formerly Agave virginica)

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Photo of false aloe leaves in basal rosettes.
False aloe is one of the few native Missouri plants related to the agaves, or century plants, of the Southwest.
Jim Rathert
Other Common Name
American Aloe; Rattlesnake Master
Family

Asparagaceae (asparaguses) formerly Agavaceae (agaves) and Amaryllidaceae (amaryllises)

Description

Perennial with a large basal rosette of soft, fleshy, flattened, sword-shaped leaves. Flowers in a loose spike atop a long, leafless stalk; greenish yellow, to 1 inch long, tubular, 3-lobed, tepals fused at the bases, stamens protruding. Fragrance like Easter lilies. Blooms June–August, sometimes to October. Leaves in a basal rosette, fleshy, dark green, sometimes with reddish-purple markings, lanceolate, pointed, with fine teeth along margins. Fruit a round capsule.

Similar species: There are 3 species of Yucca in Missouri, and they are relatives of false aloe. They have leathery leaves, and their tepals (petals and sepals) are free, not fused at the base.

Size

Height: flower stalk to 6 feet; leaves 2–16 inches long.

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Photo of false aloe flowers.
False Aloe (American Aloe) (Flowers)
False aloe flowers grow in a loose spike atop a long, leafless stalk. They smell like Easter lilies.

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Photo of false aloe fruits on mature flower stalk.
False Aloe (American Aloe) (Fruits)
The fruits of false aloe are round capsules about ½ inch long and nearly spherical.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in glades, dry uplands, open woodlands, usually in thin, rocky, alkaline soils, but also sometimes in sandy or cherty areas. False aloe, and its relatives the agaves and yuccas, New World plants, share many adaptations for survival in dry habitats and climates: the rosette of leaves channels rainfall toward the roots, and fleshy leaves store water and resist evaporation. The true aloes, unrelated and native to Africa, have evolved similar solutions to the same environmental challenges.

image of False Aloe American Aloe Rattlesnake Master distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Common and widespread in the Ozarks, north to the Meramec River.

Status

Using DNA evidence, botanists have reorganized the many plants once included in the lily family. One group within that family has become a separate family, the Asparagaceae (named for its representative genus, Asparagus). That family includes the agaves, yuccas, and false aloe, which have sometimes been given their own family, Agavaceae. True aloes, also once members of the lily family, are fairly unrelated, are placed in a separate family, and are native to Africa, not the New World.

Human connections

With its interesting foliage, tall, long-flowering stalks, and fragrant flowers, false aloe is a good low-maintenance native wildflower for gardening. It’s perfect for sunny, rocky, well-drained, dry areas; try it in the back of a rock garden.

Ecosystem connections

Moths pollinate this species at night, though bees and hummingbirds visit the flowers, too.