Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna)
Aloes aren’t usually all that secretive, but Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna) has a past so mysterious it could pass for a comic book supervillain’s origin story. Although the plant has been cultivated by humans for generations, especially in Africa, no one could find it in the wild and its origin was unknown. It wasn’t until 1982 that researchers finally rediscovered the plant in its natural habitat: A single, tiny ridge on a rocky mountain high above a tropical rainforest in Kenya. As for who first found that ridge and introduced this spectacular succulent to the rest of the world? Tiger Tooth Aloe knows—but we humans probably never will.
Despite its cryptic past, Tiger Tooth Aloe is about as peppy and cheerful as a succulent can get. Its leaves are stiff, 2”-4” triangles, bright green (but reddish when given lots of sun) with knobby white spots. Most importantly, they’re also lined with white, ¼” spikes—tiger teeth, if you will—that look imposing, but are actually soft to the touch. The leaves also tend to encircle the stems in such a way that, when you view any of the plant’s stems straight-on, the leaves form the shape of a five-pointed star. This plant stays small, rarely more than 12” tall, but can spread to twice that size, forming an unforgettable mound of shooting-star stems and tiger-toothed leaves.
Given the fact that its natural habitat is so tiny and specific, it’s a bit of a surprise that Tiger Tooth Aloe is so easy to keep healthy. But this plant is an aloe through and through, which means it’s extremely tolerant of heat, cold (down to 40°F), and bright sunlight, and needs very little water, fertilizer, or special care. This one may have the teeth of a tiger, but it’s as cuddly and lovable as a kitten.
Characteristics and traits of a Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna)
Scientific Name: Aloe Juvenna
Common Name: Tiger Tooth Aloe
Indoor: All year in temperatures above 50°F
Outdoor Zones: 9-11
Type: Perennial succulent; Propagated via division, offsets, or leaf cuttings
Mature Height: 9”-12”
Mature Width: 12”-24”
Plant Height when Shipped: XXXXXX
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium
Flower: Yes - tall spikes of red-orange flowers
Foliage: Thick, fleshy, stubby triangular leaves a few inches long, light green with raised white spots and large serrations along the edges.
Plant Care and Advice for Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna)
Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 9-11
Light Requirements: Full sun to part shade. May need protection from afternoon sun in some regions
Water Requirements: In spring and summer, “drench and drain” by soaking soil, letting drain, and waiting for top 2”-3” to dry before watering again. Give much less water in fall and winter to prevent root rot.
Drought Tolerance: Great
Temperature: Likes indoor room temp. 90°F-40°F. If you’re comfortable, it’s comfortable. Bring in when outdoor temps fall below 40°F.
Air Purification: Excellent - removes airborne pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde
Toxicity: Generally considered safe, but sources conflict. Gel in leaves may irritate skin when touched and cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress in pets, possibly also people when ingested.
Fertilizer: Optional: Give succulent food monthly (or biweekly at half strength) April through August
Container Friendly: Yes - But drainage is vital.
Tiger Tooth Aloe doesn’t mind being a bit pot-bound, but it does require a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom. Soggy roots are not an option. The soil, too, must drain quickly. Commercial cactus or succulent mixes work well. Some plant parents blend 2 parts cactus mix with 1 part sand or perlite, and others blend all-purpose mix 1:1 with sand or perlite.
Repot carefully, separating any offset pups you might want to give their own pots, and don’t fertilize for at least 3 months, so the plant’s roots have time to acclimate to the new pot.
In typical aloe fashion, Tiger Tooth Aloe loves light. It grows best when given at least 6 hours of sunlight a day—however, too much direct sun (especially in the afternoon) can scorch the leaves, so keep an eye on it. A rust-red tinge on the leaves is normal (and lovely), however, bleached spots are not. In bright indirect or medium light, you should have no worries.
Water Tiger Tooth Aloe sparingly, using the “drench and drain” method in spring and summer: When the soil is dry to a depth of 2” or more, soak it. Then let it drain completely and wait for the top 2” to dry again before repeating the process. In fall and winter, reduce the amount of water significantly to avoid leaving the plant standing in soggy soil. Also, try to water the soil, not the leaves and especially not the center rosette, to minimize the threat of leaf or stem rot.
Tiger Tooth Aloe is comfortable at the same temperatures and humidity as humans. As long as the heat is between 40°F and 90°F (possibly higher if planted outdoors), it’ll be fine. Fertilizer is optional, but if you choose to feed the plant, do so only during spring and summer, giving it succulent fertilizer once a month or at half strength twice monthly.
If older leaves begin to brown and die, it’s probably just natural aging. If more leaves begin to change, it may warrant attention.
The biggest threat to Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna) is root rot brought on by overwatering. If the plant’s leaves are turning yellow or brown and becoming mushy or soggy, there’s a strong chance the plant has root rot. Depending upon the severity of the infection, you’ll want to at least cease watering until the plant recovers, and possibly repot the plant into dry soil, trimming off any rotten roots in the process.
Though rare, it’s also possible to underwater Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna). If the leaves begin to look soft, wrinkled, or wilted, or if the root tips become brown and shriveled, check to see if the soil is dry and consider giving the plant a drink. Also check the light, as severe low light will cause the plant’s leaves to droop.
Reddish-brown tint on leaves is a healthy “sun tan”. Fully brown and/or “crispy” leaves are probably sunburned.
Pests such as aphids and mealybugs can often be washed away with blasts of water. Alternatively, you can wipe the leaves by hand with a damp cloth or treat it with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Scale insects are tougher, so either go straight to the soap/oil or dab them with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl. Note that the dead scale insects will likely still need to be pried off by hand. Finally, aloe mites are microscopic pests that cause tumor-like galls to grow on your aloe. While it’s possible to treat them with a cocktail of chemical miticides, the process is both complicated and a long shot. Most gardeners choose to simply say a heartfelt goodbye and dispose of the infected plant.
Propagation of Tiger Tooth Aloe (Aloe Juvenna) is easily done via offshoots, division, or cuttings. The first two processes are nearly identical. When repotting the plant, either detach the offshoots (also called “pups”) from the main plant and let them sit for a day to harden off, or carefully untangle the main plant’s root ball until you can separate it into two or more separate plants. Then repot accordingly.
Cuttings are a bit more involved, but don’t require you to wait for the plant to reproduce naturally. Cut a portion of leaf, run the cut briefly under cold water to wash away surface sap, then let it sit 1-3 days so the wound can seal. If it rots, toss it out. If it doesn’t, place it in cactus or succulent soil, keep the soil damp (say, with a mister) but not soggy, and wait. Once the cutting roots and shows new leaf growth, you can begin watering it as you normally would.
Even plant lovers often confuse Aloe Juvenna with Aloe Squarrosa, which is native to the island of Socotra. Once you know what to look for, however, the differences are easy to spot. The biggest difference is that Aloe Squarrosa tends to have far fewer leaves, discarding all but the last several leaves at the tip of the stem. This typically gives A. Squarrosa a more ragged appearance than A. Juvenna. Also, A. Squarrosa’s leaves are longer, smooth instead of bumpy, and curve backwards instead of pointing straight.