Sorry not sorry, Hercules

My previous post was all about Aloidendron ‘Hercules’. I explained where it came from and why it’s become such a popular landscaping plant. I also included photos of ‘Hercules’ in cultivation (as a man-made hybrid, it doesn’t exist in nature).

All that was the backstory for today’s post, which is about our ‘Hercules’. I bought it in March 2014 as an anchor plant for the newly completed sidewalk bed. This is what it looked like when I brought it home from the nursery:

March 2014, in 15-gallon pot

It was the first plant to move into the sidewalk bed:

Planted in the sidewalk bed, March 2014

In the years that followed, ‘Hercules’ grew at a steady pace even though it received very little water directly. (Of course its roots could have traveled far and wide, grabbing water from other plants that were irrigated.)

Which brings us to December 2023. Here is our ‘Hercules’ from behind, as seen from the backyard...


...and from the front:


I didn’t measure the height of our ‘Hercules’, but considering that the fence has a height of 6 ft. and the mounded bed is about 1 ft. above the sidewalk, I estimate ‘Hercules’ to be about 11 ft. tall.


As I mentioned in my previous post, there are at least two distinct forms of ‘Hercules’: The Bill Baker form is chunky and branches fairly low, often below 8 ft. The tissue-culture form out of Rancho Tissue is skinny and doesn’t branch until it reaches 10-12 ft. in height; because it’s propagated en masse through tissue culture, it’s become the most frequently seen form.

Our ‘Hercules’ is gangly and spindly, which leads me to believe it’s the tissue-culture form (I bought it at Village Nurseries, now Everde). Others might disagree, but to my eyes, it looks awkward. I wanted a well-proportioned and stately tree aloe, and this is not it. Even the base of the trunk is lacking that elegant flare you see in other ‘Hercules’:


What I wanted is this – well, a more modest version of it anyway:

A. ‘Hercules’ at Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria, CA; this plant was donated by Bill Baker

By now, I’m sure you know where all of this is going. Yes, I finally acted on my long-harbored discontent (9 years and counting!) and did this:


Our garden is so small that every plant has to pull its weight. Whenever I was looking at our ‘Hercules’, I was reminded of what it wasn’t. That’s why it had to go.

It took only 30 seconds for my reciprocating saw to cut through the trunk. Aided by a good dose of luck, I managed to get the top section to fall right between the two plants in front, without damaging either. I’d expected the cut-off part to be heavy, and it was. Here it is on the curbside yard waste pile:

Remains of our ‘Hercules’ on top of the yard waste pile

To my huge surprise, I saw that there actually were two heads. In other words, our ‘Hercules’ had started to branch, which would have become visible soon. I won’t lie, seeing the two heads brought on an acute pang of remorse. Maybe I had acted rashly; maybe I should have simply been more patient. But the deed had been done, and there was no undoing it.

Two heads

In spite of my initial concerns – and visions of having to ask a friend to pull what was left with his pickup truck – removing the remaining trunk section was easy. Using my beloved Root Slayer, I made a series of overlapping vertical cuts around the trunk. The Root Slayer has sharp rip-saw teeth that literally slice through everything they encounter. After I’d completed the circle, I was able to wiggle the trunk back and forth until it was free. Then it was simply a matter of dragging it over to the yard waste pile.

I still can’t believe how quickly I was able to dig out the bottom part of the trunk

All that was left behind in the bed was a shallow crater:


Of course I didn’t go to all this trouble without a replacement for ‘Hercules’ waiting in the wings. Here it is:

26" tall, 29" wide as of December 25, 2023

It's a cross between Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ and Aloidendron ramosissimum, which is closely related to Aloidendron dichotomum, one of the parents of ‘Hercules’. I picked up this plant at Solana Succulents, Jeff Moore’s nursery in northern San Diego County, on my trip in February 2023. Jeff says it originally came from Steven Duey of Gabilan Mountain Succulents in Fallbrook, CA. Brent Wigand has several plants from the same seedling batch in his garden in Southern California:

A. ‘Hercules’ × A. ramosissimum in Brent Wigand’s garden; these plants are watered once a month in the summer

Brent says there’s quite a bit of variability in these plants; some branch quite low (like the one in the photo above), and another one started to flower (orange) when it was only 3 ft. tall, producing copious amounts of seed (rare in A. ramosissimum).

Here is our A. ‘Hercules’ × A. ramosissimum cross in the ground, in the same spot previously occupied by our runty ‘Hercules’:

A. ‘Hercules’ × A. ramosissimum

Based on what it already looks like now, I have no doubt that this plant will give me what I’d been wanting all these years.

A. ‘Hercules’ × A. ramosissimum

The remains of our old ‘Hercules’ were hauled away by the yard waste collection truck. I did save one of the two heads and will try to root it:


Why, you might ask? Because I still feel some compunction about cutting down what admittedly was a perfectly healthy plant. At least this way I can give it a chance to live on. I’ll put the cutting up for adoption once it has roots; I’m sure there’s a good home for it out there somewhere.



© Gerhard Bock, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.

Comments

  1. Whoa! I'll admit I let out a gasp when you sawed right through it. Your new specimen is already glorious, the shape and trunk. Definitely a showstopper. I'm with you on "take it out if it's not right" -although it is hard to do, it feels right after.

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    1. This was one of the hardest decisions yet, but the result is very gratifying.

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  2. I understand and appreciate your reasoning. The original 'Hercules' didn't fit the image you'd had for it and your new one holds more promise. Good for you to try growing the head of the one you removed - if nothing else, someone may be prompted to adopt it if it roots. I'm hoping for that with the 'Raea's Gold' mother plant I beheaded.

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    1. 'Raea's Gold': I think the odds are very much in your favor :-)

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  3. We share the same feelings about every plant holding it's weight. Or another will have to step up. The weight of these is deceptive. I about wrecked my back trying to dig up and replant a 7 foot aloe ferox. Had 3 guys digging it out. Used 6 of us to plant it. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. A 7-ft. Aloe ferox! I can only imagine the weight. Those leaves are full of water--and HEAVY.

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  4. Hopefully the replacement will settle in and grow into a great specimen! I wish I were so decisive sometimes….

    Out of interest do you think it might trunk lower if you had cut it back but left the stump in the ground (like a pollard?) or is this something tree aloes dont reshoot from?

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    1. Re: trunk resprouting: I've read claims that new heads might form on the trunk, but I'm not sure that's true. Even if it did happen, it would take a long time (YEARS!) for the plant to look balanced.

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  5. This all made sense, and your photo montage and words explain it well. The replacement works, and it's encouraging that you saved one of the heads to try to root it. Beautiful plantings around it, too!

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  6. Anonymous said "Out of interest do you think it might trunk lower if you had cut it back but left the stump in the ground (like a pollard?) or is this something tree aloes don't reshoot from?" I wondered the same thing. You know that I can't stop talking about my sad experience with my Hercules here in Phoenix. When I had it cut, I had them leave about 4 feet of the stem. I was hoping it would sprout new growth at the top. Now I am wondering if I should have it cut down near the ground and the roots and if it would more likely sprout from there.

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    1. I honestly don't know if that works. Online source claim the decapitated stem would resprout a new head. Maybe that's the case in small aloes, but I just don't see it here. But as I said, I'm really not sure.

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    2. Well, it is out of the way and not visible unless I really look for it so I will leave it as is for now and hope it sprouts from somewhere in the not real distant future! Thanks, Gerhard, for the info.

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    3. Nancy, I'm so glad you're leaving your 'Hercules' stump. That way, we'll find out once and for all if a decapitated stem can regrow a head.

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    4. I don't know if you have seen my post on Facebook, but there are little plants bursting out the sides of the stump now. Of course we are back to extreme heat so we will see.

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  7. I was going to ask if you'd thought about rooting the chopped Hercules, yay! Love the new plant already.

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    1. I love the new plant, too. Every time I walk by, I feel good about my decision.

      Maybe I'll keep the rerooted head in a pot until it's too big to handle easily.

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  8. If it didn't work, it didn't work. The new plant is fabulous! Perhaps the unsatisfactory 'Hercules' destiny was holding the spot for your new 'Hercules' x ramosissimum. 'Hercules' lives on elsewhere. It is not lost. --hb

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    1. Exactly! I found out that the form of 'Hercules' I had is the typical Rancho Tissue tissue-cultured form.

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  9. Just wanted to share some first hand testimony that both Hercules and A. Dichotomum stumps can and will re-sprout, however they must be kept dry and clean which can be a lot of work (can advise if interested). In my experience it is easier to root cuttings, both for the form and the ease. As Gerhard said before a re-sprouting stump will look awkward for years (2.5 in my case) before it starts to resemble it's previous glory, all that time and energy could be invested more wisely since these magnificent plants take their time when it comes to recovery.

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    1. This is so good to know. Thank for sharing this valuable info!

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    2. What is your advice on how to resprout it please. I don’t know how I can keep it dry totally.

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  10. Does this hybrid have a name yet? Would like try finding one, or is it too new for that at this time?

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    1. No name as far as I know. I got mine from Jeff Moore/Solana Succulents.

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  11. wow! Came across this post just as i was thinking about planting a Hercules next to a fence - bought my plant from Rancho Soledad nursery in April 2023, so a long way to go.
    I was trying to figure out how close to the fence can i plant (how much was the distance you used ?) and now I am wondering about branching habit and stump growth 🙆‍♀️

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    1. Keep about 4 ft. away from the fence and you'll be fine. Even 3 ft. is probably plenty. Mine is only 2 ft. away.

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