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Africa and Madagascar house (hall C)

Entering the last of the three large Halls, you are immediately reminded of Hall A and its draught tolerant vegetation. In terms of shape and habitat requirements, there are indeed similarities there. Succulents storing water in their stems and leaves and well adapted to arid climates grow here as well. However, they belong to very different families than the xerophytes of the New World in Hall A. Most of the succulents on display in this Hall belong to the cactoid Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), but there are also aloes with fleshy leaves native to Africa and Madagascar.

The arid regions of Madagascar, Socotra and the Mascarene Islands as well as the southern Arabian Peninsula are home to the Aloe genera comprising approx. 300 species. Some herbaceous, distinctly succulent species are commonly found in our homes as ornamental pot plants. However, this genus also includes shrubby and even tree-like growing habits.

When dried, the yellowish liquid found inside the leaves of some Aloe species forms a bitter resin that has been used in herbal medicine since antiquity. Among other treatments, this drug was used as a mild purgative. Aloe was also used as an embalming agent in the Orient. In Europe, the fresh juice of its succulent leaves has been used for soothing wounds and for wound healing. Today, Aloe extract with its antibacterial properties is used in skin care products. Best known species for its medicinal properties is Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), which is common from the Mediterranean Basin right through to the south of the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. The plant was introduced in the New World by the Spaniards, who started cultivating it in large plantations for its medicinal resin as early as 1650.

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