Friday, April 23, 2010

Proven Selections Retro Succulents

I first noticed Proven Selections Retro Succulents tags last fall during a visit to City Peoples Garden Store in Seattle. At the time I remember being mildly amused by the term “retro succulents.” The agave I bought was named ‘Blue Glow’ but the tag went on to identify it as a hybrid; Agave ocahui x attenuata blue. When filing the label away in my notebook I realized I had another Retro Succulent in my collection a ‘Rasta Man’ or Agave geminiflora.

A few weeks back, visiting a new nursery, I ran across the Retro Succulent tags again. An Agave parryi truncata had become a “Retro Choke”
And an Agave bovicornuta is now “Reggae time”
I want to know the reasoning behind the jazzed up names. Why is the name Agave geminiflora or Agave bovicornuta not adequate? Do they really need “fun” names to appeal to the modern consumer? I suppose.

I also found this Agave Blue Flame…an “Agave hybrid” is all they said…great, but of what? It’s a beauty, but I really need more information! But the price was right and so I bought it even though I felt like they could have given me, the consumer, a little more to inform my purchase.
A few days later the guys at Cactus Jungle posted about it: “This here is an Agave “Blue Flame” which is an A. attenuata hybrid but about 5 degrees hardier, so it is a very good choice for the Bay Area. Last year we brought in 15 ga. plants and they were quite popular, so we got tissue-culture babies and have been growing them, but all we have so far are 1 gallon size plants. And at this size they’re not as pretty, hence the close-up picture. I guess this means we’ll have lots of 5 gallon plants available next year.” Here is a picture of the one I bought.I’m feeling pretty good that I scored what I think is a good looking plant for $12 (in a 4" pot)….new name or not. I suppose there is a whole marketing department behind the naming campaign (I wonder if they are hiring?), I just encourage them to be sure include the botanical name along with the new trademark name. That way they are making the new and experienced gardeners both happy. Have you noticed the Retro Succulents label? Would a jazzy new name increase the likelihood that you’d buy a plant?


  1. Lucky you to score a "blue flame" Ive wanted one ever since I saw them in San Francisco.
    In these hard times people have to come up with all sorts of marketing strategies to try to increase sales, and while the dedicated gardener tends to be a junkie for details like botanical names and other information, the average shopper dont really care. Its a plant, its pretty, it lives, that what would be important to them. And its much easier for them to remember, and to say, its a reggae agave than A bovicornuta.

    1. When a nurseryman sees a noteworthy for special qualities such as form (size, color, luster, hairiness for example) or extra hardiness, or even that it remains solitary and does not offset with pups that run far from the mother, or quickly form a spike and die, when seen in an unusual individual plant of a species, she will want to "lock" those qualities into further plants for propagation. This can only be done by cloning the plant via tissue culture propagation if mass scale is the market. It cannot be done by seed. Offsets and bulbils are not capable of the quotient of profit to wholesale markets such as big box stores. Seeds will not grow true to the unusual hybrid specimen observed. Every new plant must exhibit the aforenoticed special qualities so the new locked in version is given a name, which is trademarkable. Sometimes these new remarkable plants have a parentage unknown even to the propagator and could only be ascertained by DNA analysis. Thus, you're getting remarkable plants at very low cost. I am not related to the nursery industry. Myself, I studied horticulture, botany and researched and specified plants for xeric botanical gardens once, yet am a homegardener and English teacher now.

  2. I think names like that are mega stupid. Why all the reggae names? Because the agaves look sort of like dreads? I did a post about the "Jazz" apple, I found that one annoying too. I guess common names are what people usually remember, unless they're plant nerds like some people I could mention... well, not to knock marketing too much! Just one opinion.

  3. The re-name thing has been going on for a while, actually it is re-market. Many of the big nurseries do this and trademark the new name. I find it does nothing but confuse the public.

  4. I agree with Karen in that this is an inane tactic. People generally fall into two categories: Ones that read tags and ones that don't. The ones that DO want all the relevant information, not a bunch of gimmick hype. Ones the don't read the label want the hype but don't care about reading it.

    I agree with Les too. This is a re-marketing tactic. A re-branding, if you will. I believe the Heuchera purveyors are especially guilty of this. One company will call it 'Key Lime Pie' another 'Lime Rickey' but it's the same plant.

    I found a four inch Yucca rostrata at Fry Road Nursery for $5.98. I wasn't sure if it's a good deal or not but thanks to you, this plant has been on my wish list for quite some time and now it's in a bigger pot so it can stretch out its roots and grow.

  5. Patricia C, Portland ORApril 24, 2010

    I'm not really sure what affects my buying habits, but Megan has something to do with it. She'll invite me along on a nursery outing, and I tell myself I'll just have a nice look around. Next thing you know I'm grabbing the wares like the worst kid at a three-year-old's birthday party. In fact, I've got quite a few of those wares sitting on the porch right now wondering where exactly they're going to end up. (I want you to know, though, I do make every effort to refrain from kicking anyone's ass.)

  6. Wow - I haven't seen any of the Retro Succulents yet, though then again I'm not really buying any more succulents since I don't have any more room! I hate when they re-name plants. I feel sorriest for new gardeners who think these are their names, and will never know what others are talking about when discussion a 'parryi'... Seriously - a Retro Choke? What the heck?

  7. LOL, no jazzy names are not going to impress me. I'd certainly prefer scientific names - that way I can get onto google to research.

  8. The great thing is the botanical name stays stable...only changing when a bunch of scientist feel it needs to get recatagorized.

  9. I find the renaming of botanical names much more annoying than the frivolous "lookee here" names marketers dream up: harder to learn, and they seem to change with almost as much frequency.
    Ever watch Mad Men? It is a nuanced, well-produced series peeking behind the scenes on Madison Avenue in the 60's. I find myself by turns disgusted, then empathetic toward the people tasked with making the public want to buy certain products.

  10. Hi Loree~~

    I thought of you when I saw this:

    Might be preaching to the choir but nice photos to drool over. Cheers.

  11. Marketing campaigns aside, the Proven Selections can be really useful, hardy plants. I've bought a number over the years, and they do have something going for them.

    Jumping on the retro bandwagon is just plain silly, but I bet they sell like hotcakes in SoCal where people can leave them out all year and are so into the current mid-mod trend.

  12. Nicole, true about the mnemonic device of the catchy name, I hadn't thought of that!

    Karen, who are you calling a plant nerd! :)

    Les, like the public isn't already confused enough eh?

    Grace, congrats! $5.98 is a GREAT deal. I would have had a hard time leaving with less than 3.

    Patricia, don't really seem like the ass kicking type. Maybe in your teenage years. I think daughters have a way of helping spend their mothers cash without even trying. I know I do.

    Rebecca, no room? Isn't that what containers are for? :)

    Evelyn, exactly!

    faroutflora, which actually happens surprisingly often!

    ricki, no...I kind of wish that I did (watch Mad Men), but we rarely turn on the TV.

    Thanks for the link Grace!

    MulchMaid, that's just the thing...they are great plants! I find that I am strangely fascinated by these sorts of marketing campaigns. They appeal kind of like that need to stare at an accident. That probably sounds odd.

  13. PS: retro choke, aka agave parryi truncata is $2.88 at means nursery.

  14. So somebody please tell me. Is this Agave bovicornuta 'Reggae Time' just an Agave bovicornuta renamed and marketed by the Proven Selections folks?

  15. eeldip....THANK YOU!!!!!

    Anon, I believe that is the case. But I am not an expert.

  16. What is the growth rate of the retro choke plant? I bought one 4 inches like yours as well.


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