Aloe polyphylla [swirl]

spiral aloe
The mesmerizing spiral aloe likes sun, sharp drainage, cool temps, and consistent water. A focal point gem and the pride of any garden. Thrives in northern coastal California.
Aloe polyphylla [swirl]Aloe polyphylla [swirl]Aloe polyphylla [swirl]
height 1–3ft
width 1–3ft
tolerates Coast, Cool Summers, Fog, Pots, Rooftops, Wind
Moderate – High
Aloe polyphylla comes from the dreary, rocky, rainy, mountain country of Lesotho and you’ll want to re-conceptualize what an aloe is to grow this one. The spiral aloe needs extra gritty soil, cool conditions (temperatures not exceeding 80F) and consistent water, sometimes several times a week. They do not want to ever dry out, which can happen quickly with the levels of drainage they prefer.

Leaves should be ridged, thick and plump, soft squishy leaves are a sign of under watering. Brown tips can also indicate underwatering.

They can be watered over the lower leaves to ensure water gets to the roots under the plant, but avoid watering in the top of the crown or you risk crown rot. Some people plant them at an angle, so that the water naturally sheds from the crown.
exposure Part Shade – Full Sun
drainage Requires Perfect Drainage, Tolerates Sandy Soil
fertilizing All Purpose 1/2 Strength, Low Needs
origin Lesotho
5, 6, 15–17, 24

Sunset Zones Map

Outdoor Exposure Guide


Full Sun
Six or more hours of sun beams directly landing on the plant's leaves.

Part Shade
Three to five hours of sun beams directly landing on the plant's leaves.

Part Sun
One to two hours of sun beams directly landing on the plants leaves.

Full Shade
The plant is never fully lit by sun beams, but is in a bright spot or has dappled sunbeams playing over the leaves throughout the day.

Deep Shade
The plant never has dappled light on the leaves, and is in a place that feels dim, even on a nice sunny day.


Growing Notes

Plant in 50% cactus mix to 50% pumice or lava rock.
If the head ever feels loose the roots have probably rotten off. Don’t panic! If it lifts easily you can pull away the lower dead brown leaves, remove any rot, allow to dry for 10 days, apply rooting hormone and re-root your plant. Interesting they actually re-root quite easily.
Leaf tips may also become dry when grown in too much shade or heat.
Occasionally a plant will divide from the growth point into two, or reverse spiral. Additionally the intensity of each spiral is unique, with some rare individuals barely showing a spiral.
Aloe polyphylla doesn’t tolerate hot roots, so mulch well around it and don’t plant it in a black pot baking in the sun.

Special Interest

Spiral aloes are quite hardy, and naturally grow where they are covered in snow during winter. That said, if it’s cold and wet with bad drainage they will rot.

Hummingbirds love aloes, including this one, many of which are pollinated by birds in their native habitat.

More Info

We have heard of spiral aloes growing along the coast in LA in Sunset Zones 23 and 24, but even the best growers report that they drop out before reaching maturity.
We have friends successfully growing this plant in Southern Oregon, along the coast in Sunset Zones 5 and 6.
There is also one report of a mature spiral aloe happily grown under the shelter of a deck in Sunset Zone 7, in the Sierra Foothills. This particular plant is occasionally covered in snow during the winter, as spiral aloes are in habitat.