Upon arriving in San Diego just before Christmas, one of the first things I noticed was a profusion of striking Red Hot Pokers in flower; they were everywhere, or so I thought. Upon closer inspection, I realized they weren’t Red Hot Pokers. Or were they? The dark-orange spires I saw everywhere in San Diego were aloes. And the Red Hot Pokers I know and love (and have in my garden) are kniphofias. Both plants are originally from Africa, and the flowers look remarkably similar. But one is a succulent, and the other is not.
When most people talk about Red Hot Pokers, they mean kniphofias, which feature clumps of grass-like leaves. Aloe plants have thick and frequently spiky foliage; you can snap off a piece of aloe vera and apply the soothing gel to burns. But some people refer to both aloes and kniphofias as Red Hot Pokers. And in fact, the genus Kniphofia is very closely related to the genus Aloe.
Here are three photos of aloes in bloom in San Diego in January, plus an inadvertent (and less than ideal) photo taken this past May in my garden of a Red Hot Poker Flamenco — a kniphofia — next to a Foxglove.