Complex Aloe hybrids are created by people crossing Aloe species…and then crossing again, and recrossing, and adding a different hybrid or species to the cross..and so on, with the intent of creating something unique. Most people that are at least a little familiar with succulents are probably most familiar with one Aloe hybrid name in particular – Aloe ‘Christmas Carol’. This turns into a lot of people calling every hybrid they see a “Christmas Aloe”. That is the number one answer I see people give when someone is looking for an ID of a hybrid. Can’t blame people, a lot of them are very similar and not many people are as obsessive as I am 🤷♀️ I couldn’t tell any of them apart until I started collecting them along with the species. A lot of the names can even be similar…there are two Christmas hybrids, for example. The other one is ‘Christmas Sleigh’.
I definitely had trouble with hybrids before I started collecting them…actually, I still have trouble with them, unless it’s one I have and I’m sure the name is 100% correct! There are many named Aloe hybrids from hybridizers like Kelly Griffin, Karen Zimmerman, Dick Wright, and others. The hybrids found at the big box stores are usually from Altman Plants (where hybridizer Kelly Griffin works) and are reproduced through tissue culture, so each one with a name should look pretty much exactly like the others with that same name..should. Teeth, texture, leaf shape, growth habit, size, age…there are lots of things to factor in when looking for an ID or comparing hybrids.
Add in different growing conditions or random mutations, and even two of the same hybrid can look very different. IDing which hybrid you have when they don’t come with a name is definitely difficult. Even if they do come with a name, there’s a good chance it isn’t the right one! Altman Plants is such a big operation, mislabeling happens. Often the smaller nurseries just get bulk plants that don’t come labeled, and some may try to name them themselves…often just calling it a Christmas Aloe if they don’t know, sometimes giving it their own random name. You can google Aloe hybrids, but then you’re met with just tons and tons of photos of different hybrids…and most of those are probably not labeled correctly either. Then there are the hybrids with two names…sometimes a company will take an already named hybrid and give it their own name. Or there’s the “Retro Gang” Aloes…’Bright Star’ is ‘Donnie’, ‘Green Sand’ is ‘Vito’, and ‘Fang’ is ‘Marco’, just to name a couple of them. There’s one sold as zebrina ‘Dannyz’ that is really Karen Zimmerman’s ‘DZ’. The hybrids are a mess. And while sticking with “Christmas Aloe” is easier, it adds to the mess of mislabeled plants out there. A better term is probably Fantasy Aloe Hybrid or Complex Hybrid.
On my list (I keep an Excel of my plants) a lot of mine just get stuck with the NOID term along with a short description of it, or it’s pot, or where I got it, or my guesses of what it might be. There are a couple good hybrid Aloe groups on FB that have created photo albums of correctly labeled plants in different growing conditions to help people ID their plants (and to show off some photos of some really cool hybrids, too.) Hybrid Aloe Lovers and All That is Kelly Griffin are their names, they are smaller groups but definitely good for learning more about hybrids.
The stress colors on a lot of these hybrids tend to be really cool, if you’re into stress colors. If not, they still have nice texture or teeth even when they aren’t really fired up. Mine are most colorful in winter, when they are mostly kept dry and the temps stay cooler it really brings out their colors. Some are pretty colorful in the summer when they get a lot of sun here, but with the humidity and rain (or me hand watering them, I keep a lot of the little ones out of the rain), they don’t stay as stressed. But that’s good for the winter, too. They get to grow stronger in the summer to withstand the winter. I do occasionally have to cover them or put them up in my little greenhouse if it might freeze, but it rarely does. If you like brightly colored succulents, especially ones that mostly stay small, these little guys are great to collect! There are a few larger growing hybrids, as well.