Winter Hardy Agaves & Yuccas
Germany's Jürgen Eisel chooses a selection
of these exotic plants.
Jürgen Eisel, Schalltorstr. 19, 5455 Rengsdorf, Germany
Chamaerops No. 6, published online 23-10-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Succulent supermarket: Spoilt for choice.
At the age of thirteen, the view of a few large
Trachycarpus on a promenade near Saint Malo awakened in me a passion
for collecting plants, which has remained to this day.
Meanwhile my garden houses a notable collection
of subtropical succulents and shrubs, which draws attention not
only from plant experts.
Beside different palms (Butia capitata, Butia yatay,
Sabal minor, Trachycarpus fortunei, Trachycarpus wagnerianus) there
are also Acacias, Eucalyptus, Laurus, Cistus, orchids and different
bamboos planted in the garden. Another large portion is inhabited
by succulents such as Agaves, Yuccas and 200 species of cacti. In
this article, I will report on Yuccas and Agaves, other subtropical
shrubs and succulents will be dealt with in a later one.
All plants, which have the capability of storing
water in the tissues of their stems or leaves are defined as succulents.
Succulents grow in arid regions where rainfall is low and limited
to specific times. In many cases, these plants have to endure long
periods of drought in their native habitats, which alternate with
only short periods of rain.
Some desert inhabitants near the coast can also
utilize nightly dew or mist as their water supply, besides the rain.
Through the ability of succulents to store water,
they are perfectly adapted to their native stands and can survive
the dryness without damage, but along with this goes a corresponding
transformation or reduction of leaves and stems. To reduce evaporation
during the dry periods to a minimum, many succulents have a thick
cuticle, wax cover or tormentous hairs on their leaves, or rosette-like
structures like Agaves for instance.
Agaves and Yuccas are generally known as house or
tub plants. That there are many species that are winter-hardy under
the climatic conditions of central Europe, if certain requirements
are met, is only little known.
In their native habitat, many of these plants survive
frost and cold in total dryness, whereas our early winters are often
cold and moist and winter alternates many times between frost and
thaw. That is why some succulents that are frost-hardy here, need
protection from too much wetness, through drainage or a roof for
For outdoor planting of all winter-hardy succulents,
the selection of a location that will suit their requirements is
a most important factor. Microclimate and soil quality play an essential
role. One can proceed on the assumption that most succulents suitable
for planting out prefer a sunny, warm location and are sensitive
to too much moisture, especially in winter. With suitable drainage
with gravel, etc. and maybe a rain shelter from October/November
to March/ April, depending on the weather situation, the plants
can be protected. Another positive influence on the microclimate
can be obtained if the ground between the plants is covered with
expanded clay granules, such as those used in hydroculture, or rocks
Some species suitable for planting in central and
northern Europe are:
Agave megalacantha, Mexico. Although from
Mexico, this species is fully, hardy. It grows loose rosettes with
20-25 leaves, 15-25cm in diameter. The leaves are broad (8-12cm),
18-20cm long and are oval, grey-green to blue-green in colour, with
sharp brown thorns on their margins.
Agave parryi, Western North America. Compact
growing, stem-less with leaves 20-30cm long and 6-10cm wide. The
tip thorns are 2-2.5cms long. Hardy. Variety Couesii is very hardy.
Agave utahensis var. utahensis. Utah, USA.
Bluish leaves 12-20cms long and 2-5cm wide in rosettes 20-30cms
dia. Suckering. The varieties Eboruspina, Diskret, Kaibabensis and
Nevadensis are not similar. They are very sensitive to moisture
but very hardy (-20°C) if kept dry.
Agave lechugilla. Texas, USA. Sickle-shaped
green leaves 20-35cms long and 2.5-3cms wide in rosettes 75cm in
diameter. The leaf tips have brown thorns l.5-2cms long. Suckering.
Agave toumeyana var. Bella. Arizona, USA.
Dense, carpet-forming rosettes to 30cms in diameter. Leaves 1520cms
long and 10- 2Ocms wide - light green with white colouring - with
fine white threads on the margins. Hardy.
Agave schottii. Southern Arizona, USA. Leaves
to 27cms in length and 5-8cms wide, margins with fine threads. Tip
thorns 7-10mm. Tender.
I guess Yucca filamentosa, Y. flaccida, Y. glauca,
Y. recurvifolia and Y. gloriosa are quite well known. These
plants don't need rain cover here and survive our frequently wet
winters without damage.
Agaves and Yuccas are the stars of every succulent
collection and together with palms and other subtropical shrubs,
they complete the exotic appearance of a 'Riviera garden'.
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