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Plant Leaves a Legacy

This article was first published on 21 Dec 2011.

Furcraea parmentieri.

Furcraea parmentieri.

Have you got a dry, 1 metre wide spot in the garden where little else will grow? Does a plant with blue grey foliage that lasts 10 years with little or no maintenance and has a spectacular 3 metre high flower sound good? Furcraea parmentieri may well be worth a try.

I hear you ask “what is the catch?” I would like to say there is none but the only problem is that this plant is monocarpic - it will flower only once and subsequently die.  Fortunately this won’t happen immediately – this is a plant that spends a decade building up energy in its leaves, stem and roots all for the purpose of reproducing. What an end it is though, with a flower spike 3 metres tall covered with greenish/white flowers. It will leave a legacy behind, often not producing seed but numerous viviparous small plantlets on the flower stems ready to start the process again.

Furcraea parmentieri is native to the arid regions of central southern Mexico at altitudes of 2500 – 3300 metres. It can be hardy down to -5 degrees Celsius or lower and thrives in dry, free draining poor soils with little irrigation once established. It is happy in sun or partial shade but hates permanently wet soil conditions.

At Dunedin Botanic Garden there are many specimens in the Mexican Border of the Geographic Collection, near the aviary. Some are labelled Furcraea bedinghausiiwhich has now been renamed by the botanists as Furcraea parmentieri. One plant is flowering this year with many more to flower over the next decade.

Dylan Norfield is the Collection Curator of the Geographic and Arboretum Collections at Dunedin Botanic Garden.