Agave gypsophila And Mystery


This was a plant I almost didn't buy, but the more I look at it, the more I like it.  The leaf edges are more crinkled than toothed.  The leaves are somewhat soft, like A. attenuata, and there is a terminal spine at the tip of the leaf, but not as intimidating a terminal spine as many Agaves. It is a smaller Agave and is typically solitary, but this one had a tiny pup peaking out from the base.  Sold!

Seussian in its undulating and whimsical shape:

I'll get it into the ground once the weather warms up a bit more.  

One thing about Agaves (and succulents in general): lately I've been thinking about the significant amount of time and energy Agavephiles (and plant nerds in general) spend trying to figure out exactly what plant they have. For example, is the Agave marmorata lately sold by Rancho Soledad the real A. marmorata, or is it really A. gigantea?

The dedicated turn to the few definitive books on a certain genus--Gentry for Agaves, now Pilbeam for Echeverias--and try to puzzle out this or that plant. There are complications:
--some species are very similar, and species blend into each other's range in nature
--many succulents can look very different depending on climate
--there are a growing number of hybrids available
--a cross of two species can yield hybrids of enough variation to create confusion
--hybridizers can be vague or misleading when describing their crosses

A lot of energy is spent puzzling all these things out, so much so that I wonder: how much does it matter? In some respects it does, because knowing the correct species means better knowledge of what growing conditions to provide. However, general knowledge where cultural practice is concerned is often enough. It amuses me that one quirk of the classic Plant Nerd personality conflicts directly with another typical Plant Nerd quirk:

-- we want to know exactly what it is we have. The rock-solid satisfaction of certainty!
-- we love them passionately, despite not knowing exactly what they are, sometimes because we don't know what they are.

You see this Search For The Real Identity with old garden roses as well. Some people pursue this with a passion, Sherlock Holmes armed with books and secateurs. A mystery to solve.

A mystery to solve, a joy to be experienced. Plant nerdhood is two halves of a whole. Incidentally, if you Google-Image Agave marmorata, a picture of an Agave gypsophila is a prominent result. Drives me nuts, absolutely nuts. It's not right--it's just not right.


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