Monday, August 10, 2015

De-pupping an Agave ‘Cream Spike’

Is there a better recipe for lifting yourself out of the summer doldrums than buying a plant? I don’t think so. Here’s my weekend purchase:

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Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’

This beauty is the largest Agave ‘Cream Spike’ I’ve ever seen for sale in a nursery. It came in a 2-gallon container and is almost 11 inches across—a clear contradiction of the label which gives a height of 5 inches and a width of 6 inches:

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The label indicates that the grower is Village Nurseries in Orange, CA

The mother plant wasn’t the only thing growing in that pot:

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Pups and spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) along for the ride

I specifically bought this agave for the succulent mound I’m going to create when we take out the front lawn this fall. It’ll be one of maybe a dozen agaves I want to plant out, together with a few cacti and assorted other succulents.

‘Cream Spike’ is not exactly rare, and many of you might have it in your collection. As a youngster, it forms an almost flat rosette, like this:

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Although slow-growing, juvenile specimens produce a lot of offsets (like here), probably the main reason why this cultivar is so widely available.

As it matures, the rosette begins to round out, with leaves curving up instead of down. Offset production is said to decrease at the same time. There is little information about the ultimate size of this cultivar, especially since it hasn’t typically been used as a landscape plant. In this book Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers, Greg Starr says that the largest specimens he is aware of are 12-15 inches tall by 20-24 inches wide. This would make it a great agave for smaller gardens. Hardiness seems to be at least down to the high teens (-7 to -8°C), which would make it zone 8b.

What makes ‘Cream Spike’ so mysterious is that nobody seems to be 100% sure what species it is. It’s had a long and confusing history, being sold under various invalid names such as Agave patonii ‘Variegata’, Agave minima ‘Variegata’, and Agave parryi var. patonii ‘Variegata’. At one point it became Agave patonii ‘Cream Spike’ (Agave patonii being an old name for Agave parryi), then Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’. However, in recent years experts including Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Garden and Greg Starr have suggested that ‘Cream Spike’ is actually a variegated selection of Agave applanata (1). It seems that ‘Cream Spike’ has never flowered—or if it has, its flowers have been photographed or measured. The flowers would make it possible to confirm or reject the Agave applanata thesis.

But let’s leave taxonomy behind and get back to the ‘Cream Spike’ I bought at Green Acres in Elk Grove, CA on Saturday. I decided to remove both the weeds and the pups, replant the mother plant in its own 5-gallon container until it’s ready to go in the ground, and put each pup in its own pot.

Step 1 was to cut off the plastic pot. As is often the case with agaves that have a lot of offsets, the plant was stuck and wouldn’t come out of the container. I made one shallow cut through the plastic (fortunately without severing any major roots) and lifted the plastic pot right off.

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As you can see, the roots looked great. In addition, there were more pups than I had initially thought:

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I mangled a few tiny pups as I was pulling them off, but  I still ended up with 13 viable offsets:

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Here is the mother and her separated babies:

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And a few beauty shots of the mother:

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I love the buttery yellow variegation. In most smaller ‘Cream Spike’ the variegation is a lighter color, almost white, which I don’t find quite as attractive. All the 2-gallon plants I saw at Green Acres had the same yellow variegation:

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28 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. The hardest thing is to overcome the fear of doing damage. Just pull, albeit carefully.

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  2. Great job in getting everything disentangled. Thank you for providing the plant's history. I have what was sold as Agave parryi 'Cream Spike', which I thought looks a lot like the photo of your new acquisitions, only mine is smaller with possibly less creamy variegation. (It's dark out - too late to check.)

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    1. I have two other 'Cream Spike'. The smaller one has white variegation, and the larger one (in the ground since last year) has the same buttery yellow variegation as my new plant although as a youngster it, too, had white variegation.

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  3. Beautiful Agave! I can't wait to see it in your soon-to-be succulent mound.

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    1. Me too! I wish the lawn would magically disappear and the mound appear in its place :-)

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  4. The mother is beautiful! Can't wait for our large juvenile to look like that. I remember back in the day, around 2008 when a tiny pup sells for around £90 or $150 here....

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    1. I believe it! I know how expensive new introductions can be, especially when they're hard to find.

      In contrast, the plant I bought on Saturday was $18.50.

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  5. Wow great plant, and really good yellow to the variegation.

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  6. Excellent find Gerhard and yes...I agree. Buying a new plant is a definite mood lifter, especially when it's as beautiful as that one (and has so many freebies!).

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    1. Hey, if you'd like a pup or two, let me know. 'Cream Spike' is the perfect agave for containers.

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    2. I would love to take you up on that, but I've lost two 'Cream Spike' already...

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    3. I'm happy to volunteer one of my 13 offsprings so you can try again.

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  7. Nice agave. You picked a good one. The purple-y burgundy spines make a beautiful companion to the yellow and aqua.

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    1. Thank you for mentioning the spines. In addition to their color, I like how long they are.

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  8. I always look for offsets when buying plants that produce them. That way I can justify paying higher prices: "I'm getting 4 plants here, so that's only $6 each!"

    I'd like to see how to detach pups that are much closer to the plant -- some of the pups I sent you were like that and their survival rate is low for me.

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    1. I think I got a bargain here: $18.50 an 11-inch mother plant and 13 pups, of which 10 will probably make it.

      The problem with small pups close to the plant is that they often break apart as you pry them off. All you can do is try to be careful, but that's easier said than done. It's much more important to prevent damage to the mother plant (which could lead to rot) than to save a pup.

      In my experience with small pups, those that have at least some roots stand a much better chance of surviving than those with no roots at all. Most of those don't make it because they don't have enough energy stored to produce roots.

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  9. I agree with M&G, can't wait until mine gets that gorgeous waterlily form. I'm overrun with the pups too.

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    1. Greg State's book says that 'Cream Spike' is a slow grower. I would agree. That's another reason I was so happy to find a larger specimen at a good price.

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  10. Gorgeous, gorgeous 'Cream Spike'!! Will show photos to my little Cream Spikies. Grow, kids!

    After you remove the pups, do you leave the remaining root ball intact?

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    1. "Grow, kids!" I love it!

      Yes, I left the root ball intact. The pups were growing around the mother and were fairly easy to pull off. Virtually all of them had a least a few roots.

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  11. Love your Cream Spikes........ mine are all much whiter than yours. I too have a bunch of small and very slow growing pups I'm propagating. Didn't realize they were Zone 8b. Maybe I should try growing some outside when they get a little bigger.

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    1. I think it's worth giving it a try. You might be surprised.

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  12. That buttery yellow color is fab! Congratulations on all your new children!

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    1. It's a good thing they don't all want to go to college!

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  13. It is Agave applanata marginata that was grown for many decades by a nursery in North San Diego County. The plant will grow quite large, like an A. americana, if planted in a large pot or the ground in a seasonally wet climate. The nursery maintains about a dozen large plants used for propagating the offsets. The clone was later tissue cultured by a nursery in Minnesota and then given the name "Cream Spike". Most of what is available today are clones of the tissue cultured version.

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    1. Victor, this is GREAT information. Thank you very much for shedding more light on the origin and history of 'Cream Spike'. I've planted one in the ground already, and will also plant out the one shown in this post. I do hope they will grow to be sizeable. They're so beautiful.

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