En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Wednesday - February 09, 2011

From: Taipadas - Canha - Portugal, Other
Region: Other
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Growing Variegated Century Plants in Portugal
Answered by: Mike Tomme

QUESTION:

Hello Mr. Smarty Plants, I am contacting you from Portugal, because of century plant(Agave americana). I had one of that plants and I collected the seeds, which I planted, but I am quite disappointed because the seedlings are all green leaves, and the first plant(the mom) was variegated. I would like to know what I did wrong. With bests regards.

ANSWER:

Agave americana (American century plant). What is it about that name that makes Mr. Smarty Plants wonder if that plant is native to Portugal?

In most plants, variegation is a genetic weakness. The less green in a plant leaf, the less chlorophyll and the less energy produced by that leaf. In nature, these plants can not compete with their non-variegated neighbors and are usually rapidly eliminated. It is only through cultivation that variegated varieties have been made to thrive. I don't know where your variegated Agave came from, but I'll bet it was cultivated and not natural.

Generally, plants that are cultivated for a particular trait will tend to revert to their natural state as they reproduce. This is particularly true when grown from seed.

You may have better luck propagating your variegated Agave from pups. These are offshoots from the roots of main plant. That way you can select only the pups that have the trait you are looking for.

Here is previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer regarding variegation in another species that explains this phenomenon at the cellular level and explains more about the competitive disadvantage of a variegated plant.

Mr. Smarty Plants doesn't have a picture of a variegated century plant, but here's a picture of the conventional variety:

 

From the Image Gallery


American century plant
Agave americana

More Cacti and Succulents Questions

What to do with agave after it blooms from Phoenix AZ
March 12, 2013 - Hello! I have 2 century plants in the process of blooming. How exciting!! I've never really seen it before. Anyway, what do I then do with the dying/dead plant. Simply dig it up and trash it? T...
view the full question and answer

Bringing upright a leaning cholla cactus
August 29, 2013 - I have a 3 ft. tall Cylindropuntia bigelovii that fell over after recent rains. I righted it and supported it with garden stakes for about a month. I was afraid to pull too hard on the low...
view the full question and answer

Identification of Wood from Frying Pan Ranch Near Amarillo, TX (possibly Cholla)
April 26, 2013 - I'm doing research for a museum exhibition and have been told the "holey" piece of wood from The Frying Pan Ranch near Amarillo Texas is "chollya" but I can find no information. Can you help?
view the full question and answer

Starting yucca from seed from Austin
December 24, 2012 - I would like to start a soft leaf yucca recurvifolia from seed. Is that possible? Also, I've looked for seed on dried flower stalks, and I'm not sure that what I'm finding is the seed, and I ...
view the full question and answer

Worms in non-native snake plant from Hillsborough NC
September 17, 2011 - I purchased a snake plant this summer for my screened in porch. I did not repot it and left it in the plastic pot in came it. I was about to repot the plant to bring it in and noticed there are worm...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center