Every so often, a plant comes along that commands everyone’s attention, even the non-gardeners! Mangave are dramatic and commanding, yet it was mother nature who made the decision to create them! I am super proud to be the ‘poster boy’ for the plant selection, and actually have some of the plants in my brand new garden too!
How was the Mangave family created?
It was the mid-90s, and Hans Hansen was working as the Director of R&D at a micro-propagation lab in the USA. But, he wasn’t into succulents at all, his specialist subject was really quite different: he was managing 1000’s of new Hosta varieties into micro-propagation units. One prolific creator of new Hosta varieties was Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina. Yet, one day he turned up with with some Agave and Manfreda, and that’s when Hans breeding career changed forever!
A few years earlier, the state of Texas had accidentally become the original hotbed of new Agave breeding… Carl Shoenfeld of Yucca Do Nursery, a self-confessed succulent addict, was focussing on Manfreda, a quite unknown, strong, drought tolerant plant. Within the growing batch, one plant stood out, it was quicker growing and looked like a Dutchman in Tokyo! Carl scratched his head as to how this had happened, and finally sumised that this Manfeda had hybridised with a nearby Agave celsii! That was super exciting, and first time any such hybrid had been created, albeit by Mother Nature!
The first of the family, ‘Macho Mocha’, was released in the USA only, in 2004. And, the micro-propagation that multiplied the plant was headed up by Hans Hansen! He adored the plant, and was bitten by the Mangave bug, in fact he was even inspired to start his own breeding programme!
Hans, then working at Walters Gardens in Michigan, collected together as many Manfreda and Agave as he could, and had a lot of fun creating hybrids. He enlisted the help of botanical penpals to send Agave pollen, but time was of the essence, as it only stayed viable for 24 hours! UPS were busy during those few months!
What’s different about this plant?
Well, once that genetic key was unlocked, the Mangave family began to grow rapidly, thanks to Hans! The Manfreda genes brought speed and strong growth, annual blooming, and decorative dramatic markings. Agave gave their muscular structure, and border presence. The family grew exponentially, with most offspring different to their siblings. Some looked their father, some looked like their mother!
Where can you plant Mangave?
Not only is Mangave a real wow factor plant, but it also feels at home in all manner of landscapes. It pairs nicely with traditional perennials, ornamental grasses, conifers, rock garden plants, it can even be used as an indoor/conservatory plant! Plants are rapid growing, yet remarkably drought tolerant. Their popularity in xeriscape planting has exploded, in particular.
With over 24 varieties now available, they’ve become quite collectible too!
Where can you buy Mangave plants?
How to grow Mangave:
Flowering time: July to August
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Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.