Agave parryi Engelm.

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A stemless succulent plant, consisting mainly of a rosette of thick fleshy leaves usually 10 to 12 in. long, 3 to 4 in. wide, dull grey-green, glaucous when young, narrowing to a very stout black spine which is about 1 in. long and flattened or even grooved above. The horny margins are set, at 12 to 1 in. apart, with small, narrowly triangular, often hooked teeth 18 to 15 in. long. Inflorescence perfectly erect, 8 to 12 ft high, the stem 212 in. in diameter at the base, the flowers themselves being borne, candelabrum fashion, in a panicle at the top 3 ft long and 1 ft wide. Each flower is creamy white, about 2 in. long, the lower half consisting of the slender, spindle-shaped ovary, the upper half of the six-lobed perianth whose lobes are erect. Stamens conspicuously exserted, being about 112 in. long and bearing anthers 58 in. long.

Native of the W. United States from N. Arizona to S.E. New Mexico; also found in Chihuahua, Mexico; first collected in 1846, but introduced to cultivation in 1868 by C. C. Parry, who gathered seeds which were distributed under the present name. It proved quite hardy at Kew on a wall of the old T-range, but went when this was demolished. A sucker from the original plant is now grown under glass. E. A. Bowles had a plant in the open air at Myddleton House, Waltham Cross, for over thirty years. The plant can, of course, be recommended only to lovers of curiosities and as probably the hardiest species of a distinct and well-marked genus.

A. americana L. – A much larger species than the preceding, with leathery grey-green leaves 3 ft or more long, curving outward towards the apex; terminal spine brown, about 1 in. long; margins set with recurved teeth about 15 in. long and 12 to 2 in. apart. Flowers in a compound inflorescence to 25 ft high. Probably a native of Mexico, but, if so, it is rare there and reports about its importance in that country refer to other species; introduced to Europe in 1561 and to Britain before 1800. It is now naturalised throughout most of the Mediterranean region and a familiar part of the landscape; further inland, it is established around some of the Italian Lakes. It has proved hardy on the south coast from Torquay westward, and in the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly. It flowered at Glendurgan, Cornwall, in 1964 and gardening literature of the past 150 years records many other instances. In a warm climate a young sucker should flower after ten to fifteen years of growth. Commonly known as the “American Aloe”, but misleadingly so, for the aloes are members of the lily family and natives of Africa. Variegated forms of this species are also cultivated.

Genus

Agave

Other species in the genus