Friday, October 4, 2013

Agave sunburn

One of the plants I bought at last week’s Succulent Extravaganza was a stunning Agave guadalajarana. It was the blue form, seen on the left in this photo taken at Succulent Gardens:

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I looked through quite a few plants at the nursery before I picked what I thought was the most perfect one. I stowed it very carefully in the car so its leaves wouldn’t get bent or bruised. I unloaded it carefully when I got home so as not to damage it. And then I put in on the front porch in a spot where I thought it would be fine.

Except I forgot that this “protected” spot gets hit by the afternoon sun. Not for long, but long enough to do this:

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This is what happens when you suddenly expose a greenhouse-grown plant to the sun without acclimatizing it slowly.

I was so mad at myself when I saw what had happened. This was so unnecessary. And it was entirely due to my own stupidity.

I know that the damage is mostly cosmetic. But it will still take years before this agave will be beautiful again. None of this is the plant’s fault, but I can’t bear to look at it so it’ll be banished to the ugly corner in the backyard.

Moral of the story: When you bring home new plants, be mindful of the conditions they’re accustomed to. Even at this time of year the sun is still strong enough to damage plants that aren’t used to it.

Now please excuse me while I hide in the corner and cry some more.

10/7/13 UPDATE:

Southern California-based garden designer and succulent expert Michael Romero suggests that the damage might be “agave edema.” At Succulent Extravaganza 2013 he talked with Robin Stockwell, the owner of Succulent Garden, about this very issue.

According to Mike, “it seems to affect agaves and other succulents when they travel during deliveries in closed trucks or trailers” and is caused by “darkness, humidity, elevation changes, and heat.”

This perfectly describes the conditions my Agave guadalajarana was subjected to. I bought it on Friday, then left it in the trunk of my car on Friday night and all day Saturday. Saturday was a fairly warm day, and temperatures inside the trunk were definitely in excess of 100°F, maybe even 120°F.

This means the sun my agave was exposed to on our front porch beginning on Sunday might not have had anything to do with the symptoms you see in the photos above. By the time I got home, the tissue was probably already damaged.

22 comments:

  1. It is so frustrating when that happens. I know of it happening in cars, when plants have been left in a car in the sun. Only for the owner to open the back when they get home to find all their prizes looking like that.

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    1. I hadn't even thought of that. I did buy this particular agave on Friday so it sat in the trunk of the car all of Saturday--and it was a warm and sunny day. It's possible it already got partially fried in the car, and then the additional sun exposure at home did the rest.

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  2. I did something similar a couple of months ago with my very first Bromeliads. What a bummer.

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    1. We live and learn--except in my case apparently not fast enough!

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  3. Shame! Of course, next year they'll have a variegated blue Agave that looks much like this and you'll pay top dollar for it... ;)

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    1. Yep, that's the way it goes. Fortunately I'm getting better about letting go of plants I don't want any longer to make room for more.

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  4. Oh no! hey, you are not alone. I have done that a few time and I could kick myself. Another reason to get a replacement while you wait for this to recover.

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    1. It's comforting to know it happens even to a master gardner such as yourself. Fortunately, the Ruth Bancroft Garden fall sale was a week after the Extravanza. I bought an Agave parrsana as a replacement.

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  5. I'm so sorry to see this. I think we've all been in this situation a few times. Don't be hard on yourself :) Agave seem to be a fast grower so in a year you'll not notice this damage :) Onward and upward :)

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    1. Intellectually, I know that's true. But it's hard for me to forgive myself for stupid things :-).

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  6. Oh sweetie, that sucks! But it will grow big and beautiful before you know it! Don't worry I can count on both hands the times I have done this myself! Even plants in my own yard that I move are subject to this abuse! This year I burned (needlessly) a varigated jade plant. I was hoping with more sun the yellow would come back. But noooo I burned it! So it is back under the porch and I will try again slowly!

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    1. I wonder if somebody has done a thorough study on which succulents are more prone to sunburn than others. Not every plant is as sensitive...

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  7. I feel your pain having done this same thing a time or two. For me it's usually when I rush the transition from inside for the winter out into the sun. A week of bright cloudy days is perfect but all it takes is a sunny afternoon and ouch!

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    1. I can imagine that in Portland it's a much bigger problem because you alternate so much between sunny and cloudy days.

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  8. Since you got such a great closeup of the teeth on yours, I checked the teeth on my supposed A. guad., which are different. But yours looks a lot like the guad. I grew years ago,, That one long ago was an ugly duckling too for a while, but when it gained size and matured it turned into a completely different agave, with long, slim blue leaves. So i think these in general go through a gawky juvenile phase. Don't beat yourself up over it. Those leaves will be overgrown soon.

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    1. I just looked at several Agave guadalajarana at Ruth Bancroft Garden and theirs are different from mine. There must a great deal of variability in this species.

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  9. Sun scorch, ouch! Sorry to see this especially as plants are often bought for their beauty.

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    1. Exactly! This was such a perfect specimen and would have made a stunning potted plant...

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  10. Some weeks ago I did the same to my plants - and not only one!! One of them almost died because of it. And its really so stupid - I have grown succulents indoors for more than ten years and I do this.... So - you are not alone out there!!! :)

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    1. Oh no, it's even worse when more than one plant is affected.

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  11. oh dear ! so sorry this happened to your plant !!!

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  12. We live in the Caribbean and the heat can be scorching. I noticed some of my echeveria bear similar markings to your agave. You're right. The afternoon sun is the worst!

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