Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Agaves in the Pennsylvania Garden

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of guest blog posts, written by people who have helped build the garden. Enjoy!
- Annie

Josh is a resident of Potrero Hill, dog lover, artist and gardener. He has spent countless hours weeding and planting in the garden, and can always be relied upon to be the voice of reason in matters concerning correct and aesthetic plant placement. His articles regularly appear in Pacific Horticulture magazine which is published by the non-profit Pacific Horticultural Foundation, and we're delighted to have his article grace this blog!


A. filifera
As you walk through the Pennsylvania Garden, you can’t help but notice agaves and aloes, since there are some in several of the planting beds. Although they resemble each other, these succulent plants are not even closely related. There are over 700 species of agaves and aloes, which is good news for people who are into succulents. They tend to be very hardy and thrive with little care once established. If you look at the labels for this blog, you’ll see that agaves and aloes have more labels than pretty much everything else- there is a reason for this!

Annie wrote about Aloes in the April 22, 2009 blog entry, so I will focus on the Agaves in the garden.

A. parryi
The Agave family (Agavaceae) includes the agaves, beschornerias, furcreas, yuccas and hesperaloes, among others. The family name comes from the Greek agauos, meaning ‘related to kings and heroes, or noble’. Wow, who knew we had so much royal blood in the garden? The agaves are distinguished by the large spine on the tip of each leaf that most of them possess. Be careful near these plants, or you will add your own blood to the garden… Most of the agaves are monocarpic, which means that they flower once, then die. Luckily for us, most of them send out pups, or baby plants, from their base before they die. Others can only be grown from seeds. The agave’s biggest claim to fame is probably the fact that one species is fermented to make tequila.

A. shawii
Near the entry gate to the garden, you can see Agave filamentosa, also known as Agave filifera, with white filaments curling off of the leaves. This plant hails from Mexico, and sends out lots of pups. (photo top)

Nearby is Agave parryi, (second from top) a pale blue, almost round blob of beauty from Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. These reappear throughout the dry succulent bed behind the storm drain, and up the hill in other beds. Although it is tempting to touch their wonderfully smooth leaves, the dark spines at the leaf tips are amazingly sharp, so best not to pet them.

A. americana variegata
Agave shawii, (third from top) no relation to Annie, is found along the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula into southernmost California. It is a smaller agave, very slow growing, and happiest near the coast far from frosts.

One of the more obvious plants in the garden is the ginormous Agave americana marginata in the center bed (second from bottom). These plants get huge, so if you plant a cute little baby, make sure you give it plenty of room. There are other variegated Agave americana types, such as A. medio picta and A. variegata. They differ mainly in the length of their leaves and the yellow or white stripes on the foliage. There are also a bunch of non-variegated, blue Agave americana plants in the succulent bed and in the back hill near the compost pile.

A. tequilana
Last, but certainly not least, is a longtime favorite for many of us, Agave tequilana (bottom photo). Native to the state of Jalisco in Mexico, it grows in the wild at altitudes over 1500 meters, so it can take some cold weather. Tequila is made from fermenting the core of this plant after growing it for about 10 years. There is one large, and several small, tequila agaves growing in the succulent bed behind the storm drain. Maybe in ten years’ time we will have the courage to hack them apart and make our own tequila? I don’t think so.

A. attenuata
The spineless A. attenuata is shown at left, growing in the middle front bed. Not all shown, but growing at PG or PRG:

A. americana 
A. americana variegata
A. americana "Lemon Lime"
A. americana medio-picta "Alba" 
A. angustifolia 
A. attenuata 
A. attenuata"Nova"
A. attenuata "Ray Of Light" (since stolen)
A. bracteosa 
A. celsii var. albicans "UCB" (since stolen)
A. colorata
A. decipiens
A. desertii
A. desmetiana "Variegata"
A. filifera
A. franzosinii
A.gentryi "Jaws"
A. gypsophila
A. gypsophila
A. havardiana
A."Joe Hoak"
A. lechuguilla
A. lophantha
A. "Mr. Ripple"
A. murpheyi
A. murpheyi "Engard" - Variegated Hohokam Agave
A. ovata
A. parrasana (probably a hybrid of this species)
A. parryi
A. salmiana ssp. crassispina
A. salmiana 'Green Giant'

A. scabra
A. scaposa
A. shawii
A. "Sharkskin"
A. sisiliana  
A. tequilana
A. tequilana "Sunrise"
A. weberi "Arizona Star"
A. weberi "Reiner's selection"
A. vilmoriniana (Octopus Agave)
A. vilmoriniana "Stained Glass"
A. weberi "Reiner's selection"

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