En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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


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.


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

Reasons to leave a century plant in place in Florida
November 01, 2010 - Can you please list ALL the reasons to leave a century plant (as opposed to cutting it way back or removing it) in the wilds of the sand dunes on the coast of Florida, other than its prominent beauty?
view the full question and answer

Damage to Agave in New Braunfels, TX
August 21, 2008 - In a flower box, I have an Agave on which the leaves have been damaged. It looks as if a deer rubbed his antlers on it. Is there any animal in south central Texas that would try to eat an agave?
view the full question and answer

Winter care of succulents from Bethlehem PA
September 09, 2012 - We live in the northeast and we used succulents on our deck this summer because nothing else would survive the intense heat. How can I save these beautiful plants through a cold winter? Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Sunny and shady lawns from Austin
April 28, 2012 - My front yard has a large bed surrounded by a mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. Last summers heat killed off about 90% of the St. Augustine, which we would like to replace anyway to conserve re...
view the full question and answer

Does cutting off the budding agave bloom save the plant from Sunrise FL
April 30, 2010 - I have an Agave(century plant) just starting its long flower stalk. I have read the mother plant will die after flowering. Can I cut off the stalk before it flowers to save the plant? If not, how do i...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center