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Agave victoriae-reginae

Queen Victoria agave, royal agave


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Agave victoriae-reginae is a very long lived, exceptionally slow-growing succulent with short, triangular leaves that are about 22 cm long and arranged in a dense, symmetrical rosette.

The leaves are hard and leathery with dark, thorny tips and interesting white marks. It looks as if a garden gnome has used a white koki to draw a web-like pattern on the backs and fronts of the leaves, and then finished off the edges in white as well.

With an increasing awareness of the need to conserve water, gardeners have started to appreciate tough plants that require very little water. Many are seen reducing the size of thirsty lawns and sometimes even replacing them with stone gardens, rockeries or containers. At the same time the concepts of low maintenance and minimalism are being put into effect by professional landscapers, and the rest of us can all learn from them. Of particular interest here is the way they have begun to re-introduce the almost forgotten agave species and cultivars in their new garden designs. Agaves are monocarpic, which means they only flower once and then die. It is not the flowering that causes the plant to die, but changes within the plant brought on by the production of fruit or seeds. In some species, the ‘mother’ plant waits until several offspring have become established around her before she produces her tall spike of nectar-rich flowers. In others, a bulbil (plantlet) develops at the base of each flower, and these bulbils take root when they fall. Agaves are generally slow growing and can take many years before they are ready to flower, but this is not a problem because they have a place in ornamental gardens for their form, and not their blooms. Agave is a diverse genus when it comes to shape, foliage colour and texture, but a common characteristic of these succulents are the rosettes of thick, heavy leaves. Generally, the leaves of all the species end in sharp points, while those of some species also have thorny edges. Gardeners who have to deal with very hot and dry summers especially value the prettiest types of agave, such as Agave attenuata, A. geminiflora, A. parryi and A. victoriae-reginae. They are particularly striking in elegant garden pots, in rockeries and in uneven groups planted in a pattern in stone gardens.

Most suitable climate

Agaves prefer hot, dry summers and moderate winters. Heavy frost and extreme cold will damage them.

What they need

Location: full sun to light shade. Very suitable as low-maintenance container plants.
Soil: sandy, well-drained soil or a commercial potting-soil blend suitable for succulents.
Water: only water if the soil is completely dry, and even then you can wait a day or two. Too much water can cause root rot or cause the leaves to become pale and flop.

Ponder upon this

Within the genus Agave, some of the species (such as A. americana and A. sisalana) that were planted in days gone by in parts of South Africa outdid themselves and now appear on the invasive vegetation list. They were imported from the arid regions of Mexico and tropical America (where the local population put agaves to a multitude of uses, from medicinal to functional to making tequila) and planted in the desert regions of the Karoo as fodder for cattle, and to prevent soil erosion, form secure hedges around cattle pens and provide nectar for honey production. These plants, while fairly harmless in desert landscapes, are practically indestructible and, when they escape to temperate and subtropical climates with high rainfall, they become a serious threat to the natural habitat and its biodiversity.

In a nutshell

* Interesting collectors’ plants for containers.
* Exceptionally drought resistant.
* Prefer warm places.
* Attractive in desert landscapes and rockeries.