Tag Archives: Agave

Palms, Bananas, All Monocots…Oh My! Their Similarities and the Differences that Distinguish Them From Dicots…and why this should matter to you!

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I use a lot of Monocots in my garden, among them in this picture are the Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ with its huge dark velvety heart shaped leaves, Arundo donax ‘Variegata’, the Giant Reed, whose clasping leaves show us that this is a grass not a bamboo and the white speckled, green, heart shaped leaves of my Zantedeschia x elliotiana ‘Flame’ just behind the reaching stem of Arundo.

Many gardeners are self taught and haven’t formally learned Botany, the science that helps us understand plants in a more formal, academic way, though they may be excellent ‘gardeners’ in terms of their growing of plants.  Botany provides a pathway toward the understanding that many of us crave, that for others is an unwanted burden..they are happy with the doing.  For them the task of learning botanical latin, binomial nomenclature and the classification system by which we organize and study the various species, understand their structure, development and common history…is of less interest.  No doubt a good many fall somewhere in the middle.  I have always been among the more curious ones with regards to this. Continue reading

Agave: ‘Sharkey’, Death and the Meaning of Life

It’s noon and Sharkey is dismembered.  Here’s how it happened:

‘Agave down! I repeat, Wind is up and Sharkey is down!’ (This was the Facebook post I made on Oct. 13 coming home after dark.)

Nothing terribly dramatic, Sharkey just succumbed to the wind, toppling to the east, guided by the fishing line into the adjacent Callistemon and Palm. More wind this afternoon and, of course, on its way tomorrow!  (This followed the next morning.)

Do you remember last nights storm? I was out for about an hour during commute with a neighbor trying to keep drains clear and the river of water out of our basement! Sharkey is now laying on our railing. Julie says that I’m like a pet owner denying the inevitable who thinks he’s getting better. I’m afraid he’s just a head knocker for pedestrians now! (I posted this this morning.) Continue reading

Flowering…A Reason of Their Own:  A Look at Agave Flowers, Structure and Relationships

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This is one of the lower umbels, the second peduncle from the bottom. The others contain more individual flowers. This umbel was caught in the stage where the filaments are collapsing and the styles extending. Nectar has spilled to many surfaces. The tepals have begun to shrivel as well. Coarse pollen grains show on the anthers with some ‘spilled’ to other surfaces. Individual flowers aren’t particularly pretty.

Flowers can be ‘incidentally’ beautiful.  We often selfishly view them as products of nature intended to fulfill our own hunger for beauty, failing to recognize them for what they are, living organic structures evolved over time to continue their own species, organs and tissues meant to attract the necessary attentions of pollinators, to produce the seed of generations to follow. We, as a society, have learned to view a select few of these as beautiful.  We respond to them in a way not unlike the pollinators themselves do, and by either ignoring them or focusing our attention upon them, we too alter their future form and their very existence.  Sometimes we do this more directly through choosing the plants we want around us.  Other times it is our indifference that seals the fate of a plant or landscape, especially when the flora is unable to grab our often preoccupied attention and we clear land for development wasting all of the ‘lesser’ weedy natives we’ve learned to undervalue, or, through our efforts to ‘improve’ plants by controlled breeding and hybridization, intentionally altering their form even the conditions under which they will grow.  Sometimes, in our desire, for fashion and an idealized beauty, we attempt to control and remove that which we don’t want, creating sterile flowers, the antithesis of what a plant would ‘want’.  We select for bloom size, scent and color, for period of bloom, we seek to increase the number of petals and alter the pattern they may be held in, even the lifespan of the individual flower, the height of the plant so that it doesn’t flop over, the ability to grow it in more sun or shade, the shape and color of leaves and the form of the whole plant.  We attempt to control all of this and crank out a uniform product that can be ‘plugged’ into landscapes and gardens as desired.  Plants with dependable performance characteristics, a pedigree.

We need to remember that this is what we ‘want’, not what the plants ‘want’, nor is it necessarily in their best interest as either a species or a member of a plant community.  These days most of ‘us’ aren’t gardeners.  Our relationships with nature were broken long ago.  It is difficult to see the critical connections in nature, between plants and the organisms they have evolved with, upon which they are dependent, especially if someone is not looking.  It is even more difficult to see where we ourselves fit into this in our materialistic, consumer society where so many of us measure ourselves and others by the things and property we own…and are quick to ‘take’ from others.  I’m going to paraphrase a snarky rejoinder I’ve heard these last several years, ‘Yeah, you’re special, just like everything else!’ and I mean this in the broadest sense. Continue reading

Flowering and Its Trigger in Genus Agave

Agave parryi with both secondary and tertiary peduncles and the elongated yellow anthers 'floating' above.

Agave parryi with both secondary and tertiary peduncles and the elongated yellow anthers ‘floating’ above, in Sedona, Arizona.  From  americansouthwest.net.

If you follow plants far enough back up their evolutionary ‘tree’ you find plants broken down into flowering plants, that produce seeds (Angiosperms have seeds encased in a ‘fruit’; Gymnosperms have naked or bare seeds) and those that pursue other strategies to propagate themselves.  Plants like Ferns have special organs that produce spores which in turn form an intermediate form, where fertilization takes place, which then grow into an adult plant.  Another step back and plants are divided into vascular or non-vascular, those with specialized cells and structures that include phloem and xylem tissues to move water, nutrients and various metabolites around the plant and those without.   Non-vascular plants are essentially single celled organisms that form colonies or ‘bodies’  with each cell the same, complete and undifferentiated.  Plants as a whole are very unique and resist easy classification.  The botanists among us, in an attempt to better understand this, study plants and their relationships.  Systematics is the study to make sense of the Plant Kingdom, giving it order: what constitutes a plant, how they relate to each other and how they evolved…whom ‘begat’ whom.  Sometimes it would seem that the only common factor shared by all plants is their utilization of chlorophyll, but even this is not universal, because their are saprophytic plants that live off of the carbohydrates and metabolites produced by other plants and some of these are relatively complex Angiosperms.  As gardeners we mostly concern ourselves with vascular plants unless we cultivate mosses, liverworts and such.  Most of us concern ourselves with the flowering plants, though we may also grow spore producers like ferns for their structure and texture.  All of these grow from seeds or spores that carry the DNA that provides a particular species with its ‘script’, a detailed growth plan organisms attempt to follow throughout their lives.  Agaves are vascular Angiosperms that share key flowering characteristics within the genera and more broadly within their family. Continue reading

Growing Agave in My Maritime NW Garden

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Bancroft Garden. It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Ruth Bancroft Garden, in Walnut Creek, CA.  We visited on a nice 80F+ day last October.  It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.  Each leaf can be over 10″ across.

When we garden in the public view, and most of us do, at least where we front along the street, or even when we invite others into its more private and inner sanctum, and we grow plants successfully, people are going to ask you: ‘What’s that?’  ‘I didn’t know you could grow those here!’ and, ‘What did you do? they always die for me!’  In short, if you’re successful, people will regard you with respect and assign to you the attributes and position of ‘expert’…when all you did was try to follow the gardening maxim of ‘Right Plant, Right Place!’  In short, you tried not to kill it.  Genuine expertise requires broader experience, study even, that the simple buying and planting of one particular plant cannot earn you.  If you’re like me such easy success and adulation, can be embarrassing and often serves as a prompt, to look through books, search the internet and ask others, that you know who have way more practical growing experience than you yourself do, and gradually, the assignation of ‘expert’ feels a bit less flimsy, maybe even ‘earned’.  I often tell gardening friends that I consider myself to be more of a dilettante, flitting from one plant or group of plants to the next.  Inquisitiveness has always been a part of me and growing one Penstemon, one Banana or one Agave, never adequately ‘grounds’ me.  Grow a few more and I feel a little more comfortable with it.  Look into some of its ‘cousins’ and the particulars of where something grows, its climate and soils particularly, and I feel ‘better’, much like I did when I was preparing for mid-terms at school.  And then I move on, my interest sated for the time being, somewhat comfortable in what I know and curious about the next group.  Over time they all start forming a bigger picture out of what once seemed like a massive, unknowable puzzle and I enjoy solving puzzles.  Having said this, I still don’t consider myself to be an expert, just an avid and focused gardener. Continue reading