Institute for Aloe Studies does mail order

Have you heard of the Institute for Aloe Studies? High five if you answered yes; I bet you hang out a lot in aloe-related web forums! But don't feel bad if you haven't. The Institute for Aloes Studies isn't a household name yet, although it deserves to be.

The Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS) is the brainchild of John B Miller, an elementary school teacher from Oakland, California who became hooked on aloes when he saw an Aloe sabaea on his first visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in nearby Walnut Creek 20+ years ago. In the years to follow, John and his brother Jeff, equally enamored with aloes, worked as volunteers at the RBG and built up an impressive aloe collection of their own.

My first order from the Institute for Aloe Studies

In a 2011 article in the Cactus and Succulent Journal, John wrote:
The next stage of my aloe passion was to grow plants from seed. I ordered from all over the world and before I knew it I had many more aloe seedlings than I knew what to do with. I had pots filling my living room windows, flats of plants at my parents’ house, and I had covered my roof with aloes. It was out of control, but I think that any plant lover can understand the madness.
LOL, yes I can!!

The seed for an organization dedicated to aloes was sown in conversations between Jeff and Brian Kemble, the curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden. The rest is history, as they say. In 2001, the Institute for Aloe Studies became an official non-profit educational organization with John Miller as the president, Brian Kemble as the vice president, Jeff Miller as the treasurer, Ren Almanzor as the secretary, and Phil Favell as the director of Southern California operations.

According to the official mission statement, the Institute for Aloe Studies has two goals—education and conservation:
  • The study of Aloes to foster increased knowledge and understanding of currently available information; and
  • the propagation of Aloes through preservation of collections and conservation of habitat.
Education, goal #1, is primarily done through the Institute's website, which contains photographs and descriptions of most (every?) aloe species as well as links to books and related sites. In his capacity as an elementary school teacher, John is also working with students to grow aloes, acacias and kniphofias for use around the African animal exhibits at the Oakland Zoo.

Conservation, goal #2, is achieved by propagating a large number of aloe species from known origins specifically for sale to the public. The hope is that this will cut down on the trade of plants illegally collected from the wild and promote ex situ conservation, especially of endangered aloe species.

The aloes for sale are grown in John's garden and in a greenhouse at the Oakland Zoo (mainly used for rare plants). Right now, there are no public tours of either facility, but the John is hoping that someday they will be able to give access to other aloe aficionados.
I'd been keeping an IAS wishlist for a while now, and I finally placed my first order. It arrived within two days—John Miller went above and beyond to send out my aloes before going on a trip.

The photo above shows the bare-root plants and cuttings I received. And here they are potted up in ½ lava fines and ½ potting soil:

As you can see, the plants look very healthy and should resume their growth without missing a beat. (The cuttings will need to root first, of course.)

The IAS online store currently has over 100 species for sale. None of them are the "big name" aloes you can find elsewhere (like Aloe ferox, Aloe maculata, Aloe marlothii, Aloe striata, etc.). The IAS focuses on species that range from not common to downright rare. While I'm not an aloe expert, I have a passing familiarity with many species, yet there were dozens in the IAS store I had never even heard of.

The plants for sale range in size from extra small to extra large. There is no description of what that really means, but for reference most of my plants were either medium or large. Prices are very reasonable and range from $4 to $15, with most plants in the $5 to $8 range. Considering how unusual many species are, these are excellent deals.

If you're interested in aloes and want to go beyond what everybody else has, give the IAS a try. You'll get something special and contribute to a worthwhile cause.

To order, go to the IAS store and click the Order Now link for any of the plants you want. This will create a new email to John Miller. All you have to do is fill in what you want. John will get back to you with the total.

Below are the plants I bought. This listing is as much for my own records as it is for your information, especially the "Why I ordered it" comments.

Aloe camperi (yellow-flowering form)

Origin: Ethiopia
Mature size (HxW): 2 ft., spreading
Hardiness: 25°F
Why I ordered it: looks great in clumps, esp. when in flower; I chose the yellow-flowering form because it's more unique

Aloe camperi, regular red form
Aloe chrysostachys

Origin: Kenya
Mature size (HxW): 2×1 ft.
Hardiness: 25°F
Why I ordered it: wide bluish leaves with purple tinge in full sun, attractive rosette

Aloe chrysostachys, photo by Brian Kemble
Aloe dawei

Origin: Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire
Mature size (HxW): 3×3 ft.
Hardiness: 25°F
Why I ordered it: said to be a strong bloomer in summer (rare since most aloes flower in the winter)

Aloe dawei, photo by John B Miller
 Aloe deserti

Origin: Kenya, Tanzania
Mature size (HxW): 3×1 ft.
Hardiness: unknown
Why I ordered it: stiff plastic-like leaves, a quality I like in aloes (like Aloe somaliensis)

Aloe deserti, photo by John B Miller
Aloe helenae

Origin: Madagascar
Mature size (HxW): 12×4 ft.
Hardiness: 30°F?, exact frost tolerance not known as yet
Why I ordered it: very attractive form, similar to Aloe vaombe (also from Madagascar) but with completely different flowers; I already have a larger one but I wanted insurance because I don't know how it will handle our winters

Aloe helenae, photo by Alexandre Viossat
Aloe labworana

Origin: Uganda
Mature size (HxW): 2×3 ft.
Hardiness: 25°F
Why I ordered it: pale blue leaves, yellow flowers

Aloe labworana, photo by John B Miller

Aloe munchii

Origin: Zimbabwe, Mozambique
Mature size (HxW): 12×4 ft.
Hardiness: 25°F
Why I ordered it: small tree aloe, attractive flowers in tight capitate clusters

Aloe munchii, photo by John B Miller

Aloe rebmanii

Origin: Madagascar
Mature size (HxW): 1×½ ft.
Hardiness: unknown
Why I ordered it: unusual leaf color, almost black in some photos, very uncommon in cultivation

Aloe rebmanii, photo by John B Miller

Aloe scobinifolia

Origin: Somalia
Mature size (HxW): 2×4 ft.
Hardiness: 30°F?, not much data on hardiness
Why I ordered it: pale-green leaves, enthusiastic recommendation from Denise Maher on her blog A Growing Obsession

Aloe scobinifolia, photo by Denise Maher (A Growing Obsession)

Aloe secundifora

Origin: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania
Mature size (HxW): 3×3 ft.
Hardiness: 25°F
Why I ordered it: tall (3-4 ft.) branched inflorescence, quite a sight

Aloe dawei, photo by Tom Cole

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  1. So do you have a spot for these ?? Just asking lol. I'm looking forward to exploring the IAS website.

    1. Your question made me laugh. Of course not :-). The good thing is these are small. They'll be in pots for a few years until they're big enough to go--somewhere. By then spots will have opened up.

  2. I had no idea they existed and I'm a Bay Area native - excited to give them a try. Thanks!

  3. I've ordered from him before. Since I live in walking distance from the zoo, he was generous enough to let me pick up the plants, and he was generous enough to give me a tour. I got a scobinifolia, pluridens, spineless arborescens, and elgonica, all of which are doing very well. If you get the chance, get a tour of the green house! His garden is wonderful too. Good selection, I'm interested to see how those do for you.

    1. Max, thanks for the endorsement! I hope to meet John later in the year. The sheer number of species they're growing is impressive!

  4. Wow thanks for the heads-up on IAS Gerhard, and great choices for your own collection! I will definitely be ordering!

  5. thanks for letting everyone know about the IAS. I'm off to explore their website!

  6. Oh nose! Please stop introducing us to new websites to buy things we need at! =D

  7. I've shopped there several times but never purchased. The foliage on that chrysostachys is oooh la la!

  8. Thanks for sharing this. I've seen both John's garden and the greenhouse at the Oakland Zoo, but have yet to buy anything. Your purchases sound great!


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