Background The genus Aloe is renowned for its medicinal and cosmetic properties and long history of use. Sixty-three Aloe species occur in Kenya, of which around 50 % are endemic. Several species of aloes are threatened with extinction and knowledge about their use is of major importance for sound conservation strategies. The main aims of this study were to assess the biocultural value of Aloe in Kenya by documenting local uses of aloes and evaluating how the vernacular names reflect the relative importance in different ethnic groups. Methods Ethnobotanical and ethnotaxonomical data were collected using field observations and semi-structured interviews. Information was collected by interviewing 63 respondents from nine different ethnic groups, representing different ages, gender and occupations. Statistical analyses were performed using R version 3.1.2. Results A total of 19 species of Aloe were found in the study area, of which 16 were used. On the generic level Aloe was easily distinguished. At species level, the local and scientific delimitation were almost identical for frequently used taxa. Aloe secundiflora, with 57 unique use records was the most important species. The two most frequently mentioned Aloe treatments, were malaria and poultry diseases. In our study area neither age nor gender had a significant influence on the level of knowledge of Aloe use. Finally, no correlation was found between extent of use and people’s perception of decrease in local aloe populations. The aloes are highly appreciated and are therefore propagated and transported over large areas when people relocate. Conclusion Biocultural value is reflected in the ethnotaxonomy of Aloe in Kenya. Different ethnic groups recognise their most-valued Aloe at the genus level as “the aloe” and add explanatory names for the other species, such as the “spotted aloe” and the “one-legged aloe”. Widespread species of Aloe have the highest number of uses. There is no obvious correlation with high use and decrease in abundance of aloes locally, and we found no compelling evidence for local uses causing devastating damage to populations of the 19 species in use, whereas habitat loss and commercial harvesting appear to be of urgent concern for these important plants.
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