Tom Karwin, On Gardening | Mangaves – Santa Cruz Sentinel


Care to your backyard

Gardeners may be divided into people who attempt to bring every year’s new openings for their own collections, and people who rely upon the familiar, attempted –and–authentic varieties of standard gardens.

I lean toward Group Two, since the hybridizers’ brand new promotions frequently look like just minor improvements of older favorites, or are bad actors, or possess novelty value compared to lasting appeal.

Still, a substantial new plant can draw attention. Today’s column concentrates on Mangaves, that are crosses of Agave and Manfreda, two plants at the big Asparagus household (Asparagaceae).

Mangave ‘Purple People Eater’, a vigorous grower, has beautifully speckled purple leaves. This specimen has some foliage damage caused by the recent breakup of pups, but it is going to shortly create new leaves. (Tom Karwin — Contributed)

Agave and Manfreda plants have different habitats and generally grow apart from one another, but in the 1990s a pure hybrid was made. Plant hunters from the Yucca-Do Nursery in Texas gathered and climbed Manfreda seeds in Mexico and found that two of the seedlings were markedly distinct. They reasoned they needed a intergeneric hybrid of Agave celsii and Manfreda variegata and they introduced the brand new plant in 2004 as Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’.

This launch was only 15 decades back, which can be an eye-blink from the context of botanical development. Hybridizer Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens, in Michigan, started hybridizing new cultivars to unite the attributes of various species of Agaves and Manfredas. These plants, both indigenous to Mexico, was considered different genera, however, taxonomists have recently decided they are both correctly contained within the Agave genus.

While person cultivars, known jointly as “x Manfreda,” may be quite distinct, they generally discuss these traits, compare with Agaves:

• Grow much faster.
• Lack terminal and marginal spines.
• Tolerate both drought and over-irrigation.
• Tend to be cold-hardy.
• Have softer, more brittle leaves.

More important characteristics: Mangaves are polycarpic (produce multiple generations of flowers and seeds) while Agaves are monocarpic (die after flowering).

Mangaves tend to produce many offsets (“pups”); some Agaves produce multiple offsets and others produce none.

Like Agaves, Mangaves can be vulnerable to the dreaded snails and Agave Snout Weevils.

Mangaves are available in a range of sizes, a few cultivars as small as 1 foot by x 2 feet and larger ones up to 3 feet by 6 feet in diameter. The smaller varieties may be grown successfully in large pots, which help to protect them from snails, but this larger ones prefer greater space for root development provided by in-ground cultivation. It depends upon the cultivar and garden conditions, so experiment with both approaches.

While we are still in the early years of Mangave development, we already have an impressive gallery of hybrids. Check the links below. We can anticipate numerous cultivars with fascinating colors, leave structures, fragrances, vigor, and hardiness. Hybridizers are exploring new crosses among 270 species of Agave, Manfreda and Polianthes (all now included within the Agave genus).

This can be a little bewildering, but for gardeners the bottom line is access to a new and rapidly evolving group of succulent plants that have begun appearing in local garden centers. Mangaves are easy to grow and develop their most attractive colors under full sun exposure. Some cultivars could become burned under harsh sunlight, but the moderate Monterey Bay area rarely has such intense conditions.

Advance your gardening knowledge

Here are links to online information about Mangaves. Explore the lists and galleries of the growing variety of cultivars on the market. In each case, browse to the named website and search for “Mangave.” Some of these are retail mail-order suppliers; others are wholesalers that might serve your local garden center.

• Plants Delights Nursery
• Walters Gardens
• Mountain Crest Gardens
• San Marcos Growers
• Debra Lee Baldwin

The California Cactus & Succulent Society will present “A Oaxacan Adventure” at 10 a.m. Saturday. Greg Starr, horticulturist, nurseryman, author and plant hunter will provide an overview of the cactus and succulents of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. For information and to register for this free webinar, visit

The Ruth Bancroft will present two new webinars:

“Winter-rainfall Aloes, at 10 a.m. Saturday, presented by RBG’s long-time Curator Brian Kemble.
“Gardening in Summer-Dry Climates” at 10 a.m. Feb. 27, presented from noted landscape photographer Saxon Holt.

For inforomation and registration for these fee-based events, visit and click on “Events.”

The Garden Conservancy will present a two-part miniseries, “Cultural Bridge: Gardens as Community Connectors,” on March 4 and March 11. These webinars will present “leading experts who are leveraging the power of gardens to transform the world.” For information on these fee-based events, visit and click on “Education.”

Enrich your gardening days

When you are feeling adventuresome as a gardener, check out Mangaves online or at your local backyard center and consider adding one or more to your landscape. They could fit in nicely and provide unusual companions for your other plants. Given their variety old leaf color and shapes, Mangaves also welcome creative pairings with plant containers.

Enjoy gardening as exploration!

Tom Karwin is past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and Monterey Bay Iris Society, and some Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member and garden coach for this Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view daily photos from his garden, To search an archive of previous On Gardening columns, see

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