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A to B Expanded

Plant of the Month > Species A to B

 Abromeitiella lorentziana easily earns its reputation of being an easy and adaptable plant. My plant has tolerated full exposure to scorching sun, heat, and drought lasting several weeks (I'm certain that plants will easily survive months, and possibly years of drought), frequent soaking rains, temperatures ranging from a high (so far) of 95 degrees, to a low which was barely above freezing (it is said to be able to survive temperatures to 25 degrees, but it probably will not survive an extended freeze). In winter, I grow my plant indoors under the illumination of fluorescent lights held just a few inches above its foliage - but most people would be able to maintain this plant next to any sunny window without any problem. To date, my plant has also been resistant to disease, and insect infestation, which is no small feat, considering that some neighboring plants harbored mealy bugs and scale insects.

This month’s plant is Agave angustifolia v. marginata commonly called the Banded Carribean Agave. This is a very rugged, attractive, eye-catching plant with symmetrical narrow, stiff bayonet leaves liberally margined in creamy white. The rosettes can be 1 m in diameter with several leaves 50-80 cm long ending in 18 mm long terminal spine; inflorescence to 2.7 m tall. It is grown as an ornamental worldwide. Native from Costa Rica to Mexico (Sonora). Each rosette develops a trunk 40 cm high and produces offsets around the base, eventually forming clumps (I have seen a single plant in Florida with 20 to 30 offsets spreading to 15 feet away from the parent plant.) This is one of the few agaves that forms much of a stem. Fairly tropical, it grows quickly, but will not tolerate much frost. It order to maintain the variegated leaf margins, it must be propagated from cuttings.

  Agave attenuata differs from the typical agave in that it has a trunk to five feet tall with smooth, elliptic, two-foot long, light-green leaves, ten inches wide, without marginal or terminal spines and forming three-to-four foot rosettes. Inflorescences are dense, drooping racemes that reach ten feet in height and bear greenish white flowers about two-and-one-half inches long.

This month’s plant is Agave geminiflora. At first glance this plant does not appear to belong in the Agave family. A. geminiflora is a solitary, short-stemmed plant that forms dense, symmetrical rosettes of narrow dark green leaves. Moderately fast growth rate can make a nice sized specimen in a short time - 3 feet (1 m) high with equal spread. (Mine is a 4" pot) The very narrow leaves are quite pliable and slowly bend over. According to Gentry, the native habitat of this remained a mystery for some time. It is still known only from a small area in Nayarit, Mexico, where it grows in rocky ground among oak trees. The species name geminiflora is derived from the fact that there are two flowers at each bract along the spike. The flowers are greenish near the base, flushed with red or purple.

Plants of Agave victoriae-reginae are nearly stemless, producing tight clusters of spiraling, succulent leaves. The overall appearance of the plant is reminiscent of an large, hemispherical artichoke, only more attractively marked. Mature plants may measure to about 20 to 27 inches across, and nearly as tall; each leaf measures about 6 to 8 inches in length, and to about 2½ inches wide, and ends in one, two, or three sharp terminal spines. Each leaf has a white horny ridge along its margins, and along the keels on its underside, and also bears persistent chalky white outlines from where the keels of adjacent leaves contacted the upper leaf surface during its development (these are the equivalent of the "leaf impressions" to be found in other species of agave). These white markings and rims distinguish this species from all other agave species, although similar markings may be also be present in hybrids with this species. Plants are typically solitary, but on occasion, some individuals may produce a few offsets.

Aloe "Christmas Carole" is a relatively recent introduction, but has become practically an overnight sensation amongst succulent enthusiasts. Plants which have been grown in good light produce a remarkable degree of coloration in their leaves, with the leaf margins, and "teeth" bearing carmine to deep red coloration, against a greenish/grey background; in addition, my plant also exhibits a high degree of pale yellow variegation (which is not always evident on the photographs of this variety which I have seen on the web). This is a smallish plant, usually available in small pots with rosettes from about 3 to 6 inches across, but older plants may eventually reach a height and diameter to nearly 12 inches. Even at smaller sizes, it produces numerous offsets at its base, and will eventually fill a larger planter with clusters of rosettes. It is also capable of producing a number of kiekis on its flower stems. These keikis provide another opportunity to propagate additional plants from this plant.

One of the gems of the truly miniature aloes is Aloe descoingsii, which is widely regarded as the smallest aloe, with tiny rosettes, measuring to only about 2 inches across, and with triangular very succulent leaves, with wide bases, tapering abruptly to a point. In some clones, the leaf surface is very nearly flat, but in many individuals, the leaf margins are raised, to produce a cupped leaf surface. The leaf margins bear minute teeth along their length. All surfaces of the leaves are attractively marked with spots of paler green and greenish white. The stems are extremely compact, rosettes seldom stand taller than 2 inches. This species will soon cluster to produce a compact plant with many individual stems, and may eventually clump to produce clusters containing hundreds of individual stems and measuring over 12 inches in diameter.

My first encounter with the Fan Aloe (Aloe plicatilis) dates back to 1993 when I visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek California, and it made quite a lasting impression. This species is arguably the most recognizable of all of the aloes, with distinctive fan-like clusters of leaves produced in two opposite ranks at the ends of thick, semi-woody, branching stems. The leaves are tightly clustered at the tips of the branches, with each branch producing one to two dozen leaves or so. The leaves are flattened, long, and barely tapered, ending abruptly in a rounded tip; the leaf margins are minutely toothed, but are otherwise completely smooth. The leaves are dusted with a thin waxy "bloom" which gives them an attractive, frosted green, blue green, to grey-green coloration. In strong light, the leaf margins may take on a pinkish blush. The leaves may grow to just over a foot in length, and to just under 2 inches wide at their widest, but are usually smaller - especially in younger plants.

Most people are familiar with Aloe vera, the so-called "Burn Plant", famous for its soothing properties in the treatment of minor burns and skin abrasions. The documented use of Aloe vera in the treatment of skin injuries and diseases goes back about 3600 years (it is first recorded in the Ebers Papyrus from 16th century BC). The species has been widely cultivated through the passing centuries, with many naturalized stands identified throughout southern Arabia, Mediterranean Africa and Europe, the Sudan, the Canary Islands and even China (where it has been cultivated for about 400 years or more). Curiously, there are no known native stands of this species, so its place of origin, and original distribution remains a mystery to this day. Some authorities have suggested that Aloe vera may actually be a natural hybrid, and may never have had much of a distribution prior to the time that humans discovered its more useful traits....

the various species of Ariocarpus are amongst the most unusual and attractive of all cacti, with low stems (in some species, growing nearly flush with the surface of the ground, with odd triangular tubercles barely protruding above the ground’s surface). All species are compact, growing to (at most) several inches in height, and to about 10 across or perhaps slightly larger in the largest species (most of the species tend to remain much smaller). While most plants tend to remain solitary, mature plants may eventually produce a few offsets, and a few exceptional clones may even produce compact clusters of a dozen or so stems. The tubercles vary considerably between the species, and for that matter, often show considerable variation within a species: these may be flat, convex or concave, smooth, or intricately rough, long and narrow or short and squat depending upon the species, variety or clone. Except for their earliest months of growth (and in some plants of A. agavoides), no mature plants will produce spines. Some plants of Ariocarpus retusus and A. scapharostrus, may not even produce areoles, which is usually considered one of the fundamental diagnostic traits of the Cactus Family....

While the genus includes some very attractive and curious plants, I believe that the "Bishop's Cap" cactus (Astrophytum myriostigma) is one of the most iconic of the group; it easily recognized by its distinctive geometric, spineless stems, and its characteristic covering of tiny, scale-like clusters of fine hairs (trichomes). It is frequently offered in selections of cacti and other succulents at nurseries and home and garden stores (it is readily available, so it is not just for connoisseurs), and its common name is so perfectly descriptive that many people who are only marginally familiar with cacti can ask for it by name. With a few minor considerations, this is an easy plant to grow, it is compact, and will not soon outgrow its allotted space, it is spineless and non-toxic, so it is a suitable plant to grow in households with inquisitive pets and young children, and its delightful summer display of lemon-yellow flowers is the icing on the cake - What's not to like?


I would be hard pressed to imagine a plant which looked more like something created by Dr. Seuss than the “Ponytail Palm”, with its large “Hershey Kiss” shaped caudex, long tapering trunk with its topknot of recurved, grass-like “ponytail” foliage: it has a whimsical appearance, and an easy going nature which has endeared it to many growers. For years, the “Ponytail Palm” has been a staple houseplant at the “Big Box” nurseries, becoming especially popular beginning about 25 years ago. And why not? It is a remarkably easy plant to grow, tolerating a wide range of household conditions, including the reduced light levels of inside spaces, drought, and benign neglect, often enduring many years of less than optimal conditions without complaint. It is resistant to most of the insect pests which may infest houseplants, and its upright growth habit insures that even a larger plant will not take up a huge amount of floor space. It is also non-toxic; our cats frequently nibble the tips of the leaves of our plant without any ill effects. My wife, Anne has grown a plant for more than 15 years, and it continues to go on as strong as ever, adding little by little to its height and girth with each passing year.

Billbergia nutans is probably the most commonly grown member of this genus: It is widely available, of very easy culture, tolerating a remarkably wide range of growing conditions, and flowers reliably every year for most growers. This species is epeipytic and is native to Paraguay, Uruguay, Southern Brazil, and northern Argentina.
  The  flowers are the crowning glory of this plant. The arching flowering spikes emerge carmine red to vibrant shocking pink, and eventually reveal pendulous clusters of flowers whose sepals and petals are curiously zoned in greens, carmine reds, and are edged in the most vibrant violet/indigo that I have ever observed in the plant kingdom. Fully opened flowers reveal golden "tears" of hanging anthers heavily laden with pollen....

 In a group of plants known for its many interesting curiosities, Bowiea volubilis is one of the great curiosities of the succulent world. It produces large onion-like bulbs which may measure from a few inches upwards to as much as 10 inches across (most of the plants which I have seen will produce bulbs from 2½ to 4 inches across). The bulbs, like onion and tulip bulbs are comprised of tightly clustered modified leaves which serve as reserves of nutrients and moisture. Depending upon growing conditions, the bulbs may be uniformly pale green, or may be covered or partially covered with the dried remnants of outer leaves (much like an onion skin). In time, these bulbs eventually split to produce two bulbs: over a period of many years, some plants can produce numerous offsets, while others will tend to remain solitary, only producing offsets after its bulb has grown quite large.

Bursera fagaroides is a fine example of a pachycaul plant; it produces a very thick, short trunk, topped with a few main branches which typically spread horizontally. The trunk and main branches are of a grey-green coloration and are covered with a smooth bark which peels off in parchment-like sheets. To my eye the trunk and main branches have the appearance of a large, grey-green, overstuffed sausage. Thinner (non-succulent) stems are produced on top of the main branches, and these are spreading to upright in habit, eventually growing to heights approaching 20 feet. New stems emerge a purplish-mahogany color, eventually maturing to grey–green. The individual leaflets of the compound leaves are small, oval to lance shaped, and toothed along its edges, looking very much like the leaves of a beech tree (the specific name of this species, fagaroides, is a reference to the beech tree family, Fagus)

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