Archive | September 2014

Leuchtenbergia Principis, aka Agave Cactus

I have been watching and impatiently waiting for this cactus to bloom, and finally it did. I suspect our current overcast skies and lack of sunshine delayed the unveiling, but bloom it did. And it even stayed open for a couple of days, a nice plus.

Leuchtenbergia principis is a mouthful, so you can see why it also is called agave cactus. It is not in the agave family, but its shape and growth habit resemble an agave, so there you are. To some taste, the soft, papery spines on the ends of the fronds make it look a bit unkempt and messy, but the contrast of the pink tips on the green fronts make it a distinctive plant.
Alas, I did not document when I acquired either plant, but I I think the big one may be close to ten years old. This is not the first time it has bloomed, but I don’t think it bloomed last year. The smaller one is maybe four years old. This is a slow grower, which is not a bad thing, but it won’t bloom until it is after about five years old.

This plant is indigenous to North Central Mexico, in the San Luis Potosi, Chihuahua area and is said to tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees F. I am not willing to find out, so yes, I bring mine in for the winter. I have discovered through trial and error that it takes a bit  more water, and yet you do need to be careful not to over water and rot it Too much water brings out yellow at the ends; gentle sun helps with the pink touch; not enough water dries out the ends.

Agave cactus aren’t something you generally see at the big box stores, and they aren’t real common at cactus nurseries, so if you come across one and are thinking about giving it a try, you might want to latch onto it.

Then be prepared to wait for the bloom.


Succulents Provide Good Color


If you are not familiar with using succulents for a touch of color, may I recommend ice plant, dew plant, and Autumn Joy sedum. The advantages are that they don’t wilt when you take trip for a few days and have no one to water them, they grow relatively fast, they love full sun, they can stand up to our wind, and they are provide lots of color. Depending on the variety and the severity of the winter, they may even actually come back in the spring.

Autumn Joy is a tall sedum of the stonecrop family that comes in several colors which tend to be some shade of red/pink/lavender. The rosy red one’s color has intensified and become a deeper red since I took this picture. The lavender one below it makes a nice contrast. Autumn joy happens to be one sedum that is a perennial, so you can expect to enjoy it without replanting.



I discovered a variegated dew plant this year, and it has a red bloom just like the dark, solid green variety. Dew plant, aptenia cordifolia, also called hearts and flowers, won’t make it through our winters, so you’ll just have to see how it does for you.

Ice plant, delosperma, has been around a long time and now with hybrids, comes in many colors. The neon red and yellow below are just two examples. Some ice plant is hardy; some is not. You’ll need to check the tag when you buy it or ask other gardeners who might have given you a start how it has worked for them.


Just to be on the safe side, I always root a cutting of my ice plants and dew plant and keep them in the greenhouse over the winter so i will be sure to have a start when the weather warms up.

Consider some of these plants for your garden next year. 

Agaves Macrocantha and Sharkskin

Two more agaves I would recommend for your collection are these two that are smaller and slower growers, which makes it nice for collectors like me who have to drag plants in for the winter.

Agave sharkskin, sometimes called sharkskin shoes, is a naturally-occurring hybrid of a. asperima and a. victoria regina, both Mexico natives. Or you may read that sharkskin is a hybrid of a. scabra and a. fernandii. Same plants by older and younger classifications; no matter. It has a thick skin with a rough feel, hence the name sharkskin. It has dark red tips and a dark blue, almost teal color. I have read descriptions that say it is olive green with a blue cast. Mine seems bluer. The leaves are thick, and when the rosette opens, outlines or designs of the center leaf are left on the surface of the newly unfurled one. Since it is native to Mexico, I don’t trust it to make it through our colder climate without freeze damage or death, so I do roll it inside for the winter. If you live farther south, it would probably do just fine outside in the ground. I have also shielded mine a bit from our full West Texas sun so that it doesn’t  sunburn. With gradual exposure to early Spring sun, it would probably take full sun. I just didn’t do that this year.

Agave macrocantha, another Mexican native, has a very different look than most agaves and was new to me until I received this one as a gift from Mr. John Farmer of Kerrville. It was smaller then, of course, but has filled out nicely. This one is about four years old.
This agave has slender leaves that are long and round like a finger and form a nice tight rosette of leaves. It has a bright green color with a yellowish cast that is a little different to other agaves. I bring this one in for the winter, too.

I happen to think both of these specimens are worth the trouble of hauling them in and out by seasons. Perhaps you will as well.

Agaves Kissho Kan and Blue Glow

Two good choices to add to your agave collection, Kissho Kan and Blue Glow, are relatively new in the mass market, at least in Texas, but those of you in California may tell me they have been around a long time. As you can see, they make fairly large potted specimens, but those of you in warmer climates can feel safe planting them in the ground.

Kissho kan is a Japanese selection, a hybrid developed from agave potatorum, which stands out because of its variegated leaves, red spines, and interesting shape. The name is Japanese for happy crown, and you may find it listed under that name. As agaves go, it is one of the smaller ones, reaching a mature size of about one foot tall and one foot wide. I have taken a few pups from this plant, and while it takes them a while to take on the distinctive shape of the parent plant, they make really pretty little plants for dish gardens before they get too large for the dish. I have read they will take freezing temperatures down to 3 degrees F., but I take mine in for the winter.

Agave Blue Glow is a California product, a Kelly Griffin hybrid developed from agave attenuata and a. ocahuii which sports distinctive slender green leaves lined with red and yellow stripes. This plant will get larger than kissho kan, and so far I have not found any pups to pull from this plant. It is supposed to be safe in 20-25 degree F. weather, but again, I take mine in for the winter just to be sure.

I have not had either of my plants long enough to know how old they have to be before blooming and have not read if they die after blooming like traditional agaves do. But time will tell, and in the meantime, I will enjoy watching them grow.