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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.

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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

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