More to aloe than soothing sunburns

Even if you don’t like plants — don’t like to water them and darn sure don’t want them staining your clothes — you’ve gotta like the Aloe vera barbadensis, which just so happens to be my plant of the week.
Most of us know or have heard about aloe vera and how it can be used to treat minor burns. What is lesser known is that aloe vera hails from North Africa and has been used by humans for health and beauty for more than 4,000 years. Its first recorded usage was somewhere between 1600 and 2000 B.C. Cleopatra raved about using it for skin health and as a beauty aid. It seems that the aloe vera gel has eight amino acids that the human body can’t produce.
As the gel and aloe vera juice is applied, it tightens the skin, alleviates acne, lessens wrinkles and actually lowers the ph level on the surface of the skin. Here it becomes an antibacterial and anti fungus barrier invigorating skin tone and circulation.
An even lesser known fact is that you can also eat aloe vera gel.
The yellow bitters of the aloe juice act as a mild laxative; it reduces cramping in the digestive system and helps the body eliminate impurities that contribute to a host of digestive disorders. But be careful with its usage internally. Regular usage once you get past the bitter taste can be habit forming and addictive.
What I love are the red hot poker-like flowers that emanate from all over the plant during Christmas and New Years. When it rains really hard here in California, the aloe is on fire and lasts for several months.
I have seen the plant or group of plants reach eight feet in height. They can be very beautiful but beware of cutting them back in size. You will end up creating an ugly hole in the otherwise emerald green plant canopy exposing a stalky interior, unattractive to passersby. It will take some time for the new leaders to sprout on the cut stalks and become attractive again.
Here in Encinitas you can find aloe almost anywhere, from the cliffs along the beach to the canyons of Olivenhain.
Our desert climate near the coast doesn’t freeze often and we have many examples of exotic plants and giant specimen trees.
For example, set right in the middle of the sand by the concessions stand at Moonlight Beach, seemingly dry as a bone is a 130-foot-tall Phoenix canarienses. This is one of the giants of the palm family. It is commonly called the Canary or Canary Island Date palm. I love this tree even with all its problems.
I would have to say it is at least 80 years old. From looking at early turn-of-the-century photographs of Moonlight Beach you can see a small group of these juvenile trees near the same location.
As a monocot, or direct relative to your lawn, it grows straight out the top of the tree, pushing a complete new head of fronds every four to six years.
But how the heck does something that big survive on the beach? Well, I have seen the roots from a tree this size run approximately 80 to 100 feet out away from the trunk in every direction.
In sand, they can go very deep, maybe 10 to 12 feet or more following the water down. This is the Moonlight tree’s secret. Although the ocean is salty and located very close to the tree, the Encinitas Creek flows underground and drains out through the sand and into the sea.
Because the water — however polluted — is fresh water, it is less dense than the ocean water and will float on top of the sea water in the sand where the tree’s roots are. This is very much like in Hawaii where the lava rock creates an aquifer or fresh water bubble from falling rain that sits on top of the salty seawater permeating the porous lava rock of the islands.

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