The Cactus Patch
March 2019

An Agave On a Tree Trunk?
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Quite some time back we visited a Mexican Restaurant at San Simeon which had large plantings of succulents.  What originally caught my attention were two succulent trees which I mistakenly thought were branchless dragon trees.  I have since learned they are actually trees of Furcraea macdougallii, a plant which is very similar to an AGAVE.  (In fact, some authorities include them in the genus Agave.)  I actually have three of them which I bought at Home Depot.  I didn’t realize they grew a tall trunk! (Mine still have no trunk.)  Not all Furcraeas have trunks. The most common in cultivation is Mauritius hemp, Furcraea foetida from South America. This species looks very similar to Agaves and has fibrous leaves as the common name tells us.  

So, what is the difference between an Agave and a Furcraea?  Furcraeas have teeth along the edge of the leaf, but not the stiff spine at the tip as in Agaves. (They are much friendlier.)  Also, they do not form suckers from the base.  Instead, they produce lots of bulblets from the flower stalks which are tall and rather lax.  (Some Agaves form bulblets as well and when I saw Furcraea foetida in Santa Cruz I thought it was a “weeping Agave”.)  The most telling difference is in the flower.  Whereas Agaves have tubular flowers, Furcraeas have bulbous flowers.

We did not go to the February meeting of the FCSS as Woody Minnich gave the same talk which he will give here.  On the 3rd of February we did not have a family dinner as we were having a non -- Super Bowl party later.  We joined our son John for lunch at Texcoco, a new Mexican Restaurant in East Bakersfield which has a very different cuisine.  For instance, I had Huitlacoche, a fungus which grows on maize on top of nopales (prickly pear pads.  The fungus was rather tasteless, but the nopales were good.  That evening we went to Anne’s for the party which consists of games interrupted to watch the Super Bowl ads. (A few people actually were watching the game.)

On the 12th, of course, we heard Mark Muradian speak on building his C&S garden.  As members of the Fresno Club, we have seen his garden, but we did not see the tremendous effort of moving rocks, soil and plants to create it. Having built gardens myself, I can appreciate the effort it took. Incidentally, I think one lesson he gave us was not to assume succulents like sand.  I learned this in Botswana where most of the country is covered with sand, but the succulents are mostly in the rocky edges of the country!

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