A friend just gifted me this plant. It's got thin, papery, spiky leaves. What is it?

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4 Answers 4


I disagree with aloe, the paper-thin leaves and the deep well in the center of the leaf rosette indicate a member of the bromeliaceae family.

I can't give a precise id (and am no expert on bromeliads) but this should guide you in the right direction.

  • It may very well be a hardy to semi-hardy Bromeliad. Sep 12, 2016 at 13:43
  • I submit totally. I must have had one of those senior moments, grins! I've got to learn to answer when I am not multi tasking. Used to be good at multi tasking, not anymore
    – stormy
    Sep 12, 2016 at 18:04
  • If it is a bromeliad it is very unhappy. The leaves do not normally flop like this one. Low light?
    – kevinskio
    Sep 12, 2016 at 18:18
  • The friend split her original plant in two, so it is still recovering from that most likely. It does have new growth in the middle, so hopefully it is doing ok.
    – jackwise
    Sep 13, 2016 at 12:59

This is not an Aloe. Most Aloes retain water in the leaves and for that, they have a fleshy construction.

The thin leaves and spikes potentially make it a member of the Agave genera or the Bromeliaceae. Agave leaves can be really thin and those well spaced spikes are very characteristic. The species is hard to tell with these photos and no other information, but look for Agave bracteosa or many of its variegated cultivars.

If it is Bromeliaceae, it will almost always flower from the middle in distinct leaf like rosettes that then will help you identify what it is. Agave and Aloes tend to flower with a long stalk, also usually from the center that then terminates in florets.

You can try to get more info from your friend on where they bought it, or what they propagated it off of for a better call. Or, wait till it flowers and then that will be a great giveaway. I subjectively think it is an Agave from the spaced spikes on the leaf edges.

This is not part of your question but, soil looks a bit too wet. Allow to dry between watering.

  • 1
    She got it from a CVS and was told it was aloe, and is very aware that it is not aloe, so she's as in the dark as I am. As far as I know, her original plant never flowered. Also, thanks for the soil tip! That's how she gave it to me so I'll let it dry out a bit :)
    – jackwise
    Sep 13, 2016 at 12:58

This is most likely Billbergia nutans or "Queen's Tears", a very common houseplant. Also known as "Friendship Plant" since it readily forms baby offshoots which are easily shared. A flower would help provide a positive ID, but I have grown many of these in the past and I'm quite certain.

Care: House Plants Expert

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  • Hm. Can't see any spikes in his photo or in the links you gave.
    – Stephie
    Sep 13, 2016 at 16:06
  • Billbergias all have spines: fcbs.org/articles/bromeliad_key_for_dummies.htm. They're small and not conspicuous in this image. Note the "danger" remark at this site: davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/2116/#b
    – Brenn
    Sep 13, 2016 at 16:18
  • It's got the same leaf-spines as the one I have, so this seems like the best shot. Hopefully with some TLC it'll flower and I'll know for sure.
    – jackwise
    Sep 13, 2016 at 16:52
  • Good call @jackwise, get it under some bright light and water properly until it becomes established. Then, at one point, you can try the epsom salt trick or the apple in a bag trick to help it to bloom. Perhaps you can ask the person that shared the plant with you if theirs has ever bloomed. And if not, perhaps they can try the "tricks" with their more mature plants.
    – Brenn
    Sep 13, 2016 at 17:03

I think this is a Sacred Onion aka Pregnant Onion (Albuca bracteata/Ornithogalum longebracteatum). If it has a large bulb under the soil. They like to be planted with the bulb on top of the soil. Eventually you will see a "bump" on the bulb and soon you will have a baby onion that you can share. Sports at times to come from underneath and you could divide that way.

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