Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Furcraea, the coolest plant you’ve never heard of...

Okay, I exaggerate. Of course some of you have heard of them, but I'm guessing not many of you? Or maybe I’m just the one late to the party?

My very first sighting was during our visit to San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara, CA, last October. When I first saw these Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta Sport' I thought they looked like just another Hosta. Then I touched them and realized the leaves were more like an agave. Thick, succulent, nothing like a Hosta.Interesting.
Further on at San Marcos I came across the name again. Here was Furcraea macdougalii, definitely not Hosta-like (center of photo).
They stuck in my mind, or you could say “the seed was planted”.
Later on our California vacation, at the LA County Museum of Art, I took this picture from one of the second floor windows. I was pretty sure I had just made a positive Furcraea I.D. and I was now hopelessly, head over heels in love.
So naturally when I saw this…
at the Portland Yard Garden and Patio show in February I had to have it. This object of my affection was at the Rare Plant Research (RPR) booth, generally I don’t buy from RPR at the show because I will be at their nursery later in the spring and will have much more to choose from there. Not this time, I wasn’t taking any chances. The price was reasonable, but frankly that was just a happy coincidence. Nothing would have stood between me and the acquisition of my first Furcraea (another slight exaggeration).
After that it gets a bit foggy. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation with Deviant Deziner (aka Michelle) of Garden Porn started but at some point I was whining about not buying all plants that I wanted during my visit to San Marcos because they are not a retail nursery (I was trying to behave myself when we visited and play by the rules).

I named a few plants. And guess who was ordering from San Marcos Growers? And guess what she ordered? And guess what I now have? Yep. The very Furcraea that started the love affair. A Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta Sport'…and it’s a beauty. Ms. Deviant Deziner is not only a talented landscape designer but also a very kind lady, you heard it here.

Needing to know more about Furcraeas I consulted my go-to-book for of all my spiky plant knowledge needs…“Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants” by Mary and Gary Irish, from Timber Press.

Toward the beginning there was this…“in this chapter we shall consider the genera of the family Agavaceae first, in their order of importance: Agave, Yucca, Hesperaloe, Furcraea, Manfreda, Beshorneria, and Polianthes.”

Uhm….ok so Furcraea are the 4th “most important” member of the Agavacea family. Interesting. But what’s this Polianthes? Never heard of that before. Well it turns out that the Tuberose, that amazingly wonderful smelling flower, is a Polianthes. Who knew? (probably a lot of you but not me….just humor me okay?)

Back to Furcraea…(from the book)… “Plants in the genus Furcraea are large and have the rosette formation typical of the family (Agavaceae), in many ways resembling Agave vegetatively. Many species are stemless but those that have stems are huge, rising more than 20 ft in the air with spectacular rosettes of leaves held at the very tip. Like Agave rosettes, those of Furcraea are monocarpic and die after blooming”…“The roots of Furcraea are similar to those of Agave. They form radially from the plant and are shallow and very fibrous”…“The genus Furcraea is found in deciduous tropical forests and open areas from Mexico south to southeastern Brazil and the Caribbean. The greatest concentration occurs in Venezuela and Colombia.”

So there you have it. Everything I know about the genus Furcraea! I do still love my first Furcraea (labeled as Furcraea gigantea variegata) as much as the day I saw it.
It went through some tough times with our wet cool spring weather, and it lost a few leaves, but seems happy now. It’s even produced a good size pup.
And my new Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta Sport' is even better than I remembered it…
So curly. Don't they look great together?


  1. Great. Another plant I can't live without. The F. foetida 'Mediopicta Sport' that is. I WANT one. I'm sure it won't live through my winters, but... I still want one. So curly and cool.

  2. You had me laughing aloud at your awakening love affair with Furcraea. Thanks for sharing your knowledge too. I dig verigated foliage of any kind. I live an hour southeast of San Marcos and have never gone there. I probably will now. All I knew about these lovely plants was that the difference between yucca and agave is that yucca survive flowering, while agave mommies die in birthing their babies. Now I know more!

  3. Next time there is a photo contest, I nominate your shot at the LA County Museum...oh, and the Furcraea is pretty cool too.

  4. I feel that one should buy plants at least once a week, just like a bottle of wine,fresh fruit and a container of garlic olives from Whole Foods. My plant list should keep me on schedule till about mid-2012. Furcraea is now added- I'll find one somewhere by god !


  5. AnonymousJuly 14, 2010

    Sorry but I have to ask, is that Luzula nivea on the right in the last photo? I just saw Luzula at Fred Meyer and almost bought it but hesitated.

    How nice to receive the Furcraea. They really are stunning plants. I love how they fan out at the top. Very, very cool!!

  6. Never heard of this plant but I can see why you love it. And of course it is a cousin of your favorites, so how could you not?! Funny that your book is so opinionated about the "order of importance." Wouldn't you say that's for the beholder to decide upon? Nice that your designer friend hooked you up. This world of gardening bloggers is pretty amazing! Congrats on your new finds.

  7. I bought a Furcraea a couple of years ago thinking it was a weird agave. Unfortunately,
    I found out that they are more frost sensitive than even A. desmettiana. I lost my beautiful variegated Furcraea in our big 21 degree freeze. The good news...we've had them bloom here in Houston and it's amazing. Protect from frost and they should be OK.
    David (Tropical Texana)

  8. I remember you posting about the furcraea at San Marcos. You were pretty excited then, and clearly the love affair has only grown more passionate. I love the stripes and curliness of the "Mediopicta Sport"!

    That DD is a sweetheart to get you your heartthrob!

  9. Well you've taught me something new. Then again you usually do! I understand the 'nothing can stop me from buying that' feeling. It's hard to overcome. I'm glad you finally got the plant of your obsessions :)

  10. Greensparrow, it won't live through my winters either. Another pot to haul in and out of doors! But it's worth it.

    WSore, oh so glad that I could help you down the road of agave and yucca knowledge! San Marcos ROCKS, but is a wholesale only nursery. I can't remember if you are in the biz but you might want to give them notice before you show up.

    Thanks ricki! It's kind of underwater dreamy isn't it?

    ks, love your philosophy! But only 1 bottle of wine?

    Grace, I'm not sure which plant you are referring to? The big pot? That is a Hesperaloe (not blooming).

    Karen, I know! But I do love people who have strong opinions.

    David, bloom!? Lucky you! Yes this is another one that will be dutifully protected every winter.

    MulchMaid, she really is! Like I've said before gardeners are the best people!

    Laura, glad you understand. We gardeners always do!

  11. I recently fell in love with furcraea too when I saw one at the Living Desert near Palm Springs. I think it was the F. macdougalii. They had a giant specimen that knocked my socks off.

    Can I post a link to a couple photos?

  12. Things like those agave grow all over where I live in Calfornia. so if you're ever nearby, come visit me, and I will show you where to find them, for free.

  13. I picked up a horrible mixed /glued down rocks succulent bowl at Raleys the other day just because of these two little striped things in it. On the Dave's Garden c&s forum they think it's this! Of course they pointed me here to look. Question, mine look like the mediapicta photos, bit they are toothed along the leaves. I can't tell if your pics are toothed or not. They are gently toothed not mean like a dyckia. By the way, I am loving your blog. I live in the Sacramento area and love Gerhard's blog as well. :)

    1. I know exactly the kind of succulent bowl you're talking about. Why do they do that with the glue!?! It's so wrong.

      Sadly both of my furcraea have gone off to plant heaven, they just didn't like the overwintering indoors that's required in my climate. However I can answer your question as I know neither of them had any teeth along the edge, it was completely smooth.

      Thanks for visiting my blog!

    2. The F. Foetida is all over the parking lots in Mission Valley, San Diego. They've done a pretty good job of landscaping. There are lots of pups. One wonders when they will bloom....

  14. Thank you for answering! The search continues for what I have here. I sometimes "rescue" plants that looks like the need some love, soil, etc... I brought it home and busted that pot open immediately. :) They look lovely in the garden. I guess I'll just watch and see how the change and maybe I can ID better then. I do have a feeling they will need more room.

  15. Just picked up two of these on a 'sale' table outside of Charleston, SC. I had never heard of it, am madly in love, and will now wander the yard for a good spot. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  16. I was real lucky to find a Variegated Furcraea at my local Lowe's here in San Antonio. I grabbed one and went back a few days later and they were all gone. I do not want to take a chance of it freezing out this winter so I've planted the whole plant in the pot in my front garden. I will dig it up and place it in the greenhouse over the winter. The Furcraea is a strikingly beautiful plant addition to my garden.

  17. Does anyone know what happens to the adult plant if you cut the flowering stem off before it blooms.Will it save the life of the adult plant?

  18. This plant does thrive here, on tropical Reunion Island, produces heaps of aerial bulblets ready to grow!


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