Beautiful new succulents from a botanical controversy

Despite a big botanical bust-up about their name, a rush of new succulents has appeared recently, with the emphasis on prettily patterned foliage. These three really stand out...

Today’s gardens sometimes need plants with a modern look to maintain the contemporary style, and striking succulents fit right in. New agave selections, with their beautifully shaped and attractively marked foliage, are perfect summer container specimens for the modern patio.

Agave 'Lavender Lady', 'Mission To Mars' and 'Pineapple Express'Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan has now introduced more than thirty new agave hybrids and two of his new introductions, ‘Lavender Lady’ and ‘Pineapple Express’, won awards at the recent Virtual New Plant Awards.

These are all bold, rosette-forming succulents. Their narrow foliage comes in a range of green, blueish, purplish, reddish and almost smoky shades. Sometimes the leaves have attractively rippled edges, and contrasting spots or other markings.

The latest three are ‘Lavender Lady’ with pointed, misty mauve foliage, ‘Mission To Mars’ with arching green foliage so heavily spotted in red that only flecks of green peep through and ‘Pineapple Express’ with dark green leaves with burgundy spots.

These are ideal summer patio specimens grown in terracotta pots which in late autumn can be moved inside for frost protection over winter. They’re best grown in a grittier, less rich compost than other container plants to prevent the leaves becoming brittle and easily damaged.

What's in a name?

All three are usually listed as × Mangave, and are said to be hybrids between Agave and Manfreda. Agaves, with spiny leaves, are native to the southwest USA and Mexico. Hardier, sometimes deciduous, spine-free Manfreda has a wider distribution including colder, more northern and eastern parts of the US. However, many botanists do not see the Manfreda species as sufficiently distinct from Agave to require a separate genus.

RHS botanist Dawn Edwards told me: “When the RHS last looked at this it was clear that there is disagreement between taxonomists over whether Manfreda should be included in Agave or recognised as a distinct genus, and so it was agreed not to make changes but to wait for further research and consensus of opinion.”

So although, at the moment, they should all be included in Agave, you’ll usually find them listed under × Mangave.

You can order Agave ‘Lavender Lady’, ‘Mission To Mars’ and ‘Pineapple Express’ from Crocus.

All images © Walters Gardens.
*Please note, the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS.

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