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Get the hang of two lilies, aloe vera and spider plant

By Carl C. WrightSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / July 25, 1980



Since it makes an attractive ornament in a pot or hanging basket, the tropical aloe vera of the lily family is a prized tender succulent. It also enhances the landscape of summer gardens in Northern regions of the United States.

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The spider plant, another decorative plant of the lily family, has long been a favorite for hanging baskets and borders.

Aloe vera is rich in history and legend. It originated in Africa during the pre-Christian era and spread to southern Europe, China, the West Indies, and finally to tropical and semitropical areas of America.

The cactuslike aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)m resembles a small century plant. Its fleshy leaves, often with a reddish tinge and white spots, reaches more than a foot in height. Yellow cylindrical blossoms are borne on an erect shaft, although the flowering is generally infrequent when the plant is grown in a pot.

The roots form dense clumps that freely produce young plants, easily separated for propagation. New leaves open in crowded rosettes. Aloe vera absorbs moisture from the air and needs little watering. The plant thrives best in sandy loam with a small amount of decayed manure.

More important than the kind of soil, however, is drainage. A well-drained border encourages blooming in the summer. Broken bits of pottery or crushed brick are recommended for the bottoms of hangers and pots.

Although suitable for landscaping and decorating windowsills and patios, aloe vera prefers semishade. Overexposure to direct sunlight will burn the leaves. It is practically free of insects and disease.

Lacking in historical interest when compared with aloe vera, the spider plant (Chlorophylum elatum)m is a native of Asia, Africa, and America. The leaves are produced from the crown of fleshy white roots. Flattish leaves, up to an inch wide, are bright green, depending upon the variety. Some have white lines along the margins, while others make a striking appearance with yellow bands down the centers.

White, green, or cream flowers grow from long stems in a graceful spray. It is easily propagated by suckers, offsets, and division.

The spider plant is suited to almost any kind of soil and may be watered freely. Grown as a border plant, it may require some pruning for neatness. Alternate hangings of aloe vera and spider plant from a patio beam make a pleasing, if formal, contrast.

Apartments and condominiums in this space-conscious age have not decreased the yearning for green things growing; thus the popularity of hanging baskets.

Wire or plastic baskets are convenient for aloe vera and spider plant. The lining for wire baskets should be several inches of wet sphagnum moss. Burlap or plastic with perforations on the outside of the basket will hold the soil and prevent excessive drainage. Wire hangers or chains are available for both types of baskets.

Many condominium balconies now are given a garden atmosphere with live plants effectively arranged with driftwood and stones. The aloe vera and spider plant are rewarding additions to this setting.