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Mangave 'Red Wing'
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Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Tony’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives, and offers more than 1,400 kinds of perennials via mail-order.

Plant Delights’ Spring ’19 catalog includes two dozen recently introduced Mangave cultivars. “The parade of amazing new mangaves hasn’t slowed,” Tony says. “Once people see and grow mangaves, they realize how fantastic they are.”

Here’s more from Tony Avent on these intriguing ManfredaAgave crosses:

Breeding Mangave

“It started back in the ’90s on a visit to Yucca-Do Nursery in Texas. They’d collected seeds from a manfreda in Mexico, and two of the seedlings were five times as big as they should be. They had spots like manfreda but were enormous, and their structure was agave-like. The blooms were just not right. Agave celsii had been growing in the next valley, and we realized, OMG, we have a Mangave!

Agave celsii

Agave celsii

“We started breeding them at Plant Delights, and after five years of crossing, we could see the potential. It’s like when Dan Heims got started with Heuchera.

We do a lot of trials, but taking on mangaves was just too much. We gave all our breeding stock to Hans Hansen, an incredible plantsman and hybridizer at Walters Gardens in Michigan. The mangaves sat unnoticed in the back of a greenhouse until the cover came off the building. When exposed to ultraviolet light, they turned all these incredible colors.

Hybridizer Hans Hansen is Director of Plant Development at Walters Gardens, Zeeland, MI.

“We send pollen off of every agave that flowers to Hans. What he’s done is create agaves with purple and red spots. They’re fast growers with hybrid vigor. A mangave plug grown from tissue culture takes 12 to 16 weeks to fill out a quart container, then another two weeks to fill a gallon. Agaves, in comparison, take 63 weeks. Hans grows a thousand seedlings, selects 100, then 50, then 25. Then he picks one or two to keep and sends us a few discards to trial. That way we have the advantage of knowing what the crosses will do.

“I’ve never felt the need to second-guess Hans. He’s very keen on what he’s created and understands what’s cool and how to use the plants—their garden value. It’s been challenging for him. He’s in Michigan breeding for the West Coast, but he realizes how good these plants are, and he’s persevered.

Mangave characteristics

Mangave 'Bloodspot'

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

“So far we haven’t seen any mangaves that are monocarpic like their agave parents. ‘Bloodspot’ flowered and produced 50 offsets. We’ve never lost a mangave to flowering. Manfredas, if it’s too cold—upper 30s, low 40s—become deciduous. They also may go summer-dormant where temperatures are high.

“Mangave roots tend to conform to the pot size, like agaves. They may be screaming, but they’ll stay small in a small container. Leaf fragility…some are more brittle than others. Early ones were incredibly brittle. The way we solve the breakage problem when shipping them is to let them dry down. Leaves that become flaccid don’t break.

Manfreda virginica

Manfreda virginica is insanely hardy.” — Tony Avent

“Mangave cultivars are not necessarily winter hardy. It depends on their parentage. Manfredas are found in Zones 4 through 8, from the Midwest to southern Illinois, central North Carolina, Florida, central Texas and central Mexico. They’re dry-land plants, but are more tolerant of overwatering than agaves. Even in a hurricane, a mangave will keep on going. As for extreme drought, mangaves are probably not as tolerant as agaves, but again, it depends on the parent. You can’t say of any genus, ‘They’ll all do this.’

“Mangaves are fantastic in containers. They’re not great indoors—they lose their color without UV light. If need be, overwinter them inside, then take them outside in the spring.

Mangave 'Blue Mammoth'

Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ is among the most hardy.

“Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ has been the most hardy in our trials, to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s an Agave ovatifolia hybid that forms a 2-foot-tall by 4-feet-wide rosette of jagged blue leaves with olive spots. Other mangaves that go to Zone 7 are ‘Falling Waters’ and ‘Bad Hair Day’.

Another new genus: Hansara

“We offer Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks,’ the first tri-generic hybrid, which we named after Hans. Agave, Manfreda, Polyanthes and Hosta are all closely related. So Hans started making tri-generic crosses, aiming for highly fragrant flowers, Mexican color, and hardiness. Crosses of Hosta and Agave are the most difficult to make.

Hansara 'Jumping Jacks'

Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks’ combines the genes of Agave gypsophila ssp. pablocarrilloi, Agave macroacantha, Manfreda maculosa, Polyanthus tuberosa, and Polyanthus howardii.

“‘Jumping Jacks’ forms a 14-inch-tall by 27-inch wide clump of narrow, succulent, gray-green foliage, sparsely spotted purple. When mature in 2 to 3 years, it produces a 6 foot-tall, highly branched flower spike of lovely yellow flowers but with an insignificant fragrance.

Mangaves in the stratosphere

Mangave 'Red Wing'

Mangave ‘Red Wing’

“Mangaves like ‘Red Wing’ have foliage colors that don’t look real. Variegated manfredas as parents will launch mangaves into the stratosphere. What’s been done so far is maybe 2 percent of what can and will be done. In California and Mediterranean climates this is an opportunity to rewrite what people do with their landscapes.

“Every day there’s something new and exciting with plant hybridization. It’s a great time to be alive.”

Learn more about mangaves…

Testing Mangaves in My Garden

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ in my garden

On my page, “Testing Mangaves in My Garden” you’ll learn about the Mangave cultivars I’m trialing in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago…[Continue reading] 

See the mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen on his Facebook page: “Mad About Mangave”.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well but some better than others. I evaluate their progress and consider how to help each attain its full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera.

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'
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Testing Mangaves in My Garden

I’m testing more than 30 Mangave cultivars in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago from Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens, a wholesale perennial grower in Zeeland, MI. Hans is the world’s leading breeder of mangaves, and the first to reproduce them via tissue culture.

The hard part for breeders is selecting the true champions. Like a litter of puppies, plant crosses may look terrific, but how will they behave? It may take years to find out, and reports (like this) from gardeners far and wide provide important data.

Mangave is an intergeneric cross of Manfreda and Agave, and in the list below I’ve included each cultivar’s parentage (if available). All have speckled, dotted or blotchy leaves unless otherwise noted.

A bit of horticultural backstory

Mangaves

Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’
From Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin. Garden design by Michael Buckner.

The first mangave arrived on the gardening scene 15 years ago: the cultivar ‘Macho Mocha’. According to San Marcos Growers: “…reported to be hardy to 9° F by Tony Avent in North Carolina. This 2004 Yucca Do Nursery introduction…was from seed collected by Carl Schoenfeld while on a plant exploration trip into Mexico.” It attains 2 to 3 feet in height by 4 to 6 feet in diameter.

Mangave

The best guess is that Agave macroacantha x Manfreda maculata = Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

Next came Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (2008; 1 foot high by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy to 20-25 degrees.) The origin is unclear; San Marcos Growers suspects Japan.

In my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed, 2015, pp. 224-225), I show both ‘Bloodspot’ and “Macho Mocha’ and say, “If plants can be fashionable, the latest stars are mangaves.” I still feel that way. Mangaves are new, beautiful, interesting, as easy to grow as any succulent—and as for hybridization, the sky’s the limit.

When the mangaves arrived, it was Christmas in January

I don’t grow many exotic succulents. I’m into creating a beautiful garden with those easy to come by. If common succulents don’t thrive, there’s no great loss. My few rarities are in pots where I can keep an eye on them. So when the box of mangaves arrived, into pots they went…for the most part. In hindsight, that probably protected a few of them but kept others from attaining their full potential. Regardless, two years later, I’m pleased to report all are alive and well.

I’ll never forget opening that shipment back in 2017. The plants had been greenhouse-grown, and boxing and shipping had caused broken leaves. That made me groan, but I quickly became caught up in identifying their agave parentage. I said aloud to a plant with wavy leaves that looked trimmed with pinking shears, “I’ll bet you’re from Agave gypsophila.” To the spitting image of a very common green agave that was a surprising lavender, I murmured, “Surely you’re not related to Agave attenuata?” All in all, those mangaves were the best gifts I’d ever received from someone I hadn’t met.

Manfreda cultivar

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’

I knew nothing about manfredas, the lily side of mangaves, so I was pleased that Hans had included two.

Manfreda cross

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is a variegated sport of Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chip’.

One manfreda went into a pot, the other, into the ground. The latter started out glorious and stayed that way. In fact, Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is now among my favorite plants.

I sheltered all 14 as best as I could from extremes of sun, heat and cold. As it turns out, that may not have been necessary.

How to grow mangaves

Not taking any chances, I potted and shaded my new mangaves.

That first assortment from Walters Gardens included two manfredas and 12 mangaves.

The list below describes plants from the first shipment and coincides with my January, 2019 video: “Mangaves in My Garden.” Some need repotting or a better location, which I’ve done since or soon will do.

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ (introduced 2017, photo above), has floppy, wavy, narrow leaves. It was beautiful in a pot for months, then seemed to suffer in the summer heat. A section (perhaps a separate plant) bloomed and died back. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery says the rest may have simply gone dormant after blooming and will come back. [See my mangave interview with Tony.] It also may have needed more water than I was giving it, or it wanted to be in the ground. In summer, leaves lost their sheen, and tips dried and shriveled. In fall, ants colonized the container. Above is how it looks now, revived by winter rains.

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ (photo above) looks delicate but isn’t. (Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity. Zones 7b to 9b?) It has done well in a sheltered bed alongside a wall that bounces sunlight onto it, doubtless helping its color. Spider-shaped with tapering, rippled, ribbonlike leaves, it’s fascinating, as are its red blotches and creamy white margins. I’m thinking of removing any blooms to keep the plant strong.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Carnival’ is a Mangave ‘Jaguar’ cross. Its variegation is the reverse of Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’.

Mangave ‘Carnival’ exhibits the best and worst characteristics of the new genus: Wonderful rosy-red dots blend with pink, green and cream (the best) and leaves that are too fragile for the plant to exist unscathed in the open garden. It also doesn’t like the summer heat of inland southern CA.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ in my garden (top) and as shown on the Walters Gardens website. (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave colorata

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ (2017) has languished in a too-shady spot in my garden, growing and even offsetting, but producing no color other than silvery-blue. Its leaves have elongated, and their pie-crust edges hearken to its A. gypsophila parentage. I may have to move it into greater light to get it to look more like the photo on the Walters site.

Mangave hybrid

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ has long, narrow, flexible, dark green leaves thickly dotted with inky blotches that give it a reptilian look. It’s not be a thing of beauty, but it’s interesting.

Above: Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ given the right amount of sun.

 

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

The same plant after being transplanted into an garden bed that gets too little light.

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ (2016; variegated sport of Mangave ‘Jaguar’. Sun to part shade, 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide at maturity.) ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a fast-growing, stunningly striped and mottled, large multicolored succulent that glows beautifully when backlit. I first planted it in a pot which it quickly outgrew, then transplanted it into the ground where it probably needs more sun. Rather than replanting it a third time, I’ll just trim the tree that’s shading it.

Mangave hybrid

Agave attenuata x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (2017. Sun to part shade. 12 inches tall by 20 inches wide at maturity. Frost tender.) Having grown both parents, I was truly delighted to meet their lavender-gray offspring. I’ve had it in a pink pot for two years, possibly stunting it. I’ll soon find it a place in the garden—one that’s frost-free, because this lovely cultivar lacks hardiness.

Mangave 'Man of Steel'

Agave stricta x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Man of Steel’

Mangave ‘Man of Steel’. I’m familiar with both parents, so unpacking this beauty was like a family reunion. Both ‘Bloodspot’ and A. stricta are stiff-leaved, so not surprisingly their offspring is, too. On the plus side, ‘Man of Steel’ is not as delicate as other mangaves. Its thin, silvery, downward-curving leaves offer an elegant and symmetrical—if pointy—silhouette.

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (Manfreda jaliscana x Agave lophantha) x Agave shawii.

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (2017. Anticipated to be 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity, Zones 9a to 11?). I’m unfamiliar with its manfreda parent but it must be red and soft, because its agave parents are green, gray and stiff-leaved. The hybrid’s many red blotches nearly cover any green, but in my garden some leaf tips have shriveled. What it lacks in symmetry and form it makes up for in color…pretty much. I should dig it up and see if it does better in a pot.

Mangave 'Moonglow'

Mangave ‘Moonglow’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Moonglow’. Showing the best of both parents with soft, wavy-edged and curling slender leaves, this suggests ‘Inkblot’ with more of a bluish cast. Dots are thick and maroon. I have it in a blue pot that suits it.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Mangave ‘Jaguar’) in my garden.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ on the Walters Gardens website

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’. In catalog photos this looks like the foliage atop a pineapple, only speckled. The one I planted in a pedestal pot doesn’t have a pronounced, stacked-leaf growth habit. It has stayed fountainlike and nicely dotted, but yellow-green. I’ve since removed it from the pot and expect good things from it in the ground.

Mangave 'Silver Fox'

Agave gypsophila x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Silver Fox’.

Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ (2017. Sun to part shade. Zones 9a to 11? Eleven inches tall by 22 inches wide at maturity.) Nursery photos show a compact, wavy rosette that’s distinctly silvery-purple and rosy-dotted. Mine looks more like a short-leaved gypsophila, minimally freckled. It’s happy but possibly needs more light.

Mangave 'Spotty Dotty'

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave bovicornuta.

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’. This has performed well in my garden and colored up nicely. Its gently twisting, soft, greenish-yellow leaves are well freckled with red. A favorite.

Mangave ‘Whale’s Tale’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave ovatifolia.

Mangave ‘Whale Tale’ (2018. Sun to part shade. Zones 7b to 11? Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity.) Mine has no speckles and simply looks like a nice silver agave with darker areas that lack pulverulence. It’s a lovely plant but again, it probably needs more sun to enhance its color. In my garden, that’s invariably a trade-off: More sun equals greater danger of beige sunburned patches and brown, dry leaf tips.

What is a manfreda?

If you’re into succulents, you’re well aware of agaves. But chances are you’ve never heard of the genus Manfreda. After all, it’s not in the Sunset Western Garden Book. There exist 35 species of these lilylike succulents. Like AgaveManfreda hails from Mexico, but also ranges much farther north and east. The genus is closely enough related to Agave that the plants can cross, although this rarely happens in nature.  Manfreda is also related to Polianthes. Plants in both genera are commonly referred to as tuberoses.

Tuberose leaves form rosettes from a short stem and send up fragrant flowers along slender stalks. Flowers are tubular and whitish, yellow, green, or brownish, with long stamens. Some are wonderfully fragrant. Manfredas, unlike agaves, don’t die after flowering—a nice characteristic they pass on to their intergeneric crosses, the mangaves. Leaf margins of manfredas are smooth or slightly serrated and lack spiny tips.

Manfreda maculosa

Manfreda maculosa is the progenitor of numerous crosses

Spotted manfreda, (Manfreda maculosa, commonly called Texas tuberosehas silvery-green leaves covered with purple spots. It’s the one most often seen in cultivation. 

According to Plant Delights Nursery: “Like its Agave daddy, x Mangave are evergreen (above freezing) and like its Manfreda momma, it is polycarpic (doesn’t die after flowering) and attracts hummingbirds. The agave parent contributes the evergreen nature and the form, while the manfreda parent contributes the purple spotted pigment. Both parents contribute drought-tolerance and an aversion to winter moisture.”

[See my mangave interview with Tony Avent of Plant Delights.]

Mangaves in My Garden 

Back in 2017, before my first shipment arrived, mangaves were not entirely unknown to me. I’d seen two cultivars in high-end gardens by San Diego designer Michael Buckner. I considered the plants expensive rarities and suspected they probably wouldn’t thrive in the comparatively rigorous conditions of my own garden. Located in the foothills of inland San Diego County on a steep, terraced, east-facing slope, it gets frost every winter (down to the high 20s F) and near-desert heat in late summer (into the 90s for weeks). Although I’ve been amending the soil for decades, the substrate is decomposed granite (not a bad thing, it’s well draining) and clay (never a good thing.) Fortunately there’s not a lot of clay—about enough to build an adobe dog house.

The succulents that thrive out in the open in my garden are those that aren’t picky. Full-sun, frost-prone areas are OK for agaves and cacti, and those Southwest succulents that store water in their trunks, such as dasylirions, yuccas and beaucarneas. I have every kind of aeonium in the dappled shade of native oaks and beneath lacy trees, and quite a few aloes, although it’s a balancing act to give the latter adequate protection from weather extremes yet enough sun to bloom.

Tender succulents such as jades, kalanchoes and euphorbias grow in frost-free microclimates beneath eaves, where they bask in half a day’s sun. Apart from shade succulents like sansevierias and toughies like graptoverias and Mexican sedums, others (like echeverias, haworthias and stapeliads) are in pots that I move or shelter as seasons change.

So what about your garden? 

Manfredas prefer full sun, short of scorching; well-drained soil that’s kept on the dry side; and room for their root systems to expand. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep. I’ve noticed that mangaves with established rootballs can be difficult to remove from pots. Some sources say that Mangave is a slow grower; others, that it’s much faster than Agave. So far, with the exception of ‘Kaleidoscope’—a mangave on steroids—they seem about the same.

Late spring and summer is the growth season. Like most succulents, mangaves appreciate a dose of diluted fertilizer when emerging from dormancy. They’re fine outdoors in mild climates with minimal rainfall, typical of Southern CA. Elsewhere, overwinter them indoors. Keep them cool and the soil barely moist. In spring, return them to the garden and reintroduce to full sun gradually. They’re not great indoor plants because they need ultraviolet light to color-up.

As for garden design, the aesthetic uses of mangaves are only beginning to be explored. I anticipate that they’ll become commonplace in low-water landscapes throughout the Southwest, likely with a broader range than South African succulents, but not venturing into desert gardens. I could be wrong about that, but mine don’t seem to like late-summer heat. The plants’ soft, arching leaves and interesting spotting and striping will likely make them collectible novelties, beginning in California and spreading worldwide.

By the mid-’20s, mangaves will doubtless be commonplace. The certainty of new cultivars selected for desirable colors, variegation, toughness, growth habit and size means there’s no limit to what’s possible—from upright, spiky, speckled, stiff-leaved, agave-lookalikes to ribbon-foliaged lilies that are languorous, loopy, crenellated, freckled and noodle-soft.

Mangave drawbacks

The main drawback to early Mangave cultivars, especially those bred not to “bite” (i.e. they lack the needlelike tips and barbed teeth of their Agave parents) is soft, flexible, thin and brittle foliage that’s prone to tearing or breaking, and is easily damaged by snails or impact. Place such plants out of harm’s way to avoid compromising their beautiful symmetry. Although they’ll outgrow breakage, mangaves are succulents that shouldn’t be stepped on, even by a chihuahua.

They’re also vulnerable to agave snout weevil infestation.

Find out more about mangaves…

Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves 

Mangave expert

Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Avent’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives…[Continue reading] 

Visit the Mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.

Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen by following his Facebook “Mad About Mangave” page.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well and some better than others. I evaluate the plants’ progress and how to attain their full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera!

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin