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On Gardening: Welcome the Mangave to your garden

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

During The Garden Guy’s stint as executive director of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, I was completely taken by a native plant named the Manfreda maculosa. The common names associated with this plant are false aloe, spice lily and Texas tuberose and it was comfortably residing in the Agavaceae or Agave family. I’ll chase the family rabbit in a minute.

We had this plant in what I would have called the xeriscape section of the garden. If you have ever been to Mission, Texas, you might think the whole Lower Rio Grande Valley was a xeriscape. So, this section of the garden was indeed for the toughest of plants.

This manfreda is a small succulent, cactus-like plant that serves a mighty purpose. Its tall bloom stalk with beautiful pink and white flowers feeds hummingbirds and pollinators in the south Texas thicket. Incredibly, this plant is the larval host plant for the Manfreda Giant Skipper butterfly, which is under threat of extinction.

So now a decade plus later I find myself having the opportunity to test a few Mangave plants, on a small scale. I’ve been doing this the past few years. The thrilling part is this new plant is a cross between Manfreda and Agave, hence the name Mangave. I know nothing on the actual hybridization of each variety. But I am giving extra input on how they perform in zone 8 Georgia, and the aesthetics on landscape usage.

Now for a little chasing of the family rabbit. As I was getting ready to expound on the wonders of the Manfreda and the new Mangave hybrid. I find that Manfreda is now an Agave and known botanically as Agave maculosa. I’m thinking at least they are all in the Agave family, Agavaceae. That would be NO, as agaves have lost their family and now are in the Asparagus family, Asparagaceae.

So, you see the dilemma; if you cross an agave with an agave can you get a Mangave? That answer is YES, until further notice. Many of us have been clamoring for Proven Winners to debut some of the incredible Mangaves in the plant pipeline. Well, it has happened as Proven Winners did a soft release this year of the Art & Sol Collection. Six of the finest Mangaves have gotten the horticultural hearts pumping.

These represent the best of the art or architectural qualities of the Mangave and Sol or the affinity of the sun. None of us testing Mangave could possibly find fault with these initial six plants. The full hard release next year will surely expand the love of this new plant, the Mangave, even if it is in the Asparagus family.

You are probably wondering what you can do with a Mangave; truthfully the answer is anything you want. These are fairly small plants, 8 to 12 inches tall with a spread that might reach 20 inches on some. The variety Bad Hair Day, screams to be put in an urn or container where those leaves hang downward in all their glory. Besides its texture, Bad Hair Day is one of the more-cold hardy varieties rated to zone 7b.

Then there is Night Owl. It is so beautiful you can’t go wrong with the decision for landscape or container. It is rated to zone 9, so I’ve been growing in a container. It’s a rustic, mossy clay pot from Mexico that has an iguana lizard crawling out of the side. My sister Susan, in Texas, used Night Owl and Lavender Lady in pots made out of recycled agave fiber.

 

Lavender Lady with its silver-grey leaves with blushes of purple, offers great opportunities in the southern landscape as it is rated to zone 8. It has given me some of my greatest enjoyment as I intermingled three plants among three dark burgundy leaved Crowning Glory Purple Reign eucomis, or pineapple lilies. On the opposite side of the bed, I repeated that concept using Mangave Thunderbird with dark burgundy red leaves and Crowning Glory Princess Bride pineapple lily that ages from purple to green. Thunderbird is rated to zone 9.

One of the most elegant of the Art & Sol group is Mangave Catch a Wave. It reaches about 10 inches tall with silvery blue foliage. Son James used his in a bed with begonias and other colorful foliage. Though this one is rated as zone 9, it did survive the zone 8 winter.

The sixth Mangave in the Art & Sol Collection is Tooth Fairy. It is rated to zone 9 and warmer and exhibits a desert flair with pronounced spines of varying colors: cinnamon brown to yellow to orange along blue leaves.

It is a great time to be a gardener with the arrival of new plants like the Mangave. Start sourcing your plants now, you might get lucky.

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(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)


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