Monday, October 30, 2017

Turning 1 into 19: pot-bound Aloe suprafoliata

With its icy blue leaves, Aloe suprafoliata is a striking landscape plant, as seen here at UC Davis:

Four Aloe suprafoliata at the UC Davis (the flowering aloe with bluish leaves)

What attracts most people to this aloe species, however, is its juvenile form:

Juvenile Aloe suprafoliata at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory

Its botanical name, suprafoliata, actually means “leaves stacked on top of each other.” The common name in Afrikaans is boekaalwyn, literally “book aloe.” It’s easy to see why: the stacked leaves of a juvenile plant resemble the pages of an open book. As the plant matures, the leaves swivel into the rosette you see in the first photo.

My own Aloe suprafoliata came from the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory. I can't remember when I bought it, but it must have been around 2013. It was tiny—in a 3-inch pot—but by August 2015 it had grown into a beautiful specimen:


Fast forward 2+ years to October 2017. What you see now is a tangled mess:


The leaf color has changed a little as well; it's more green now although that might be because it doesn't get full sun.

In its native habitat, Aloe suprafoliata is typically solitary. However, many forms in cultivation sucker, some (like mine) prodigiously. The reason is simple: Solitary plants are harder to propagate because you have to grow them from seed. Suckering forms, on the other hand, are the gift that keeps on giving, and it's easy to share offsets with others. As a result, suckering behavior that is uncommon in the wild eventually becomes the norm in cultivation.


I've been meaning to take my Aloe suprafoliata clump apart for quite a while, and yesterday I finally did.

This is what I found when I took it out of the pot (photo on the left). I had actually expected a denser coil of roots at the bottom. After I shook off the soil and untangled the roots, I ended up with what you see on the right:


Separating the clump wasn't brain surgery. A little tugging and pulling was all it took. I ended up with the mother plant sporting an impressive mess of roots...


...and 18 smaller ones:


I potted up the five biggest offsets to give away (Dan and Brian, two are yours)...


...and stuck the smaller ones into an unused vegetable bed which has become a makeshift growing area. There they join an Agave colorata I've been stress-testing as well as three ×Mangave 'Macho Mocha' offsets waiting for a new home:


The biggest plant had its roots trimmed and will go back in a pot. I'm looking forward to having just one plant showing off that beautiful stacked leaf look.



This task was a vivid reminder of how easy it is to propagate many succulents. If I were a plant seller, I'd be very happy to have turned 1 plant into 19!

6 comments:

  1. While I find the juvenile plant very attractive, the adult is a little scary!

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    1. You mean because of the teeth? They're actually not that sharp. More like rubber.

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  2. Mine is solitary, and I prefer that, in Agaves as well as Aloes. It's a trade off--getting more plants vs. the beauty of a solitary rosette. The ones that produce just a single offset or two are the best.

    A. suprafoliata starts to spiral after they flower for the first time. Mine is flowering for the 3rd time and it has six stems this time.

    Ha! My vegetable beds are filling up with Agaves and other succulents as well.

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    1. I wish my A. suprafoliata were solitary. I much prefer solitary plants as well. As you said, a clump destroys the symmetry.

      I wonder if the behavior would be different in the ground? The Agave 'Cream Spike' I bought a couple of years ago had a passel of pups in the pot, but after I put the mother plant in the ground, it never produced another pup.

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    2. Some Agaves, I think I remember reading, produce some offsets and then completely cease doing that as they mature. Those are not bad--clear out the offsets once, and enjoy the main plant.

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  3. Cannot wait to get one of these :D

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