Aloes and agaves

It seems like there are two typical types of gardens in New Zealand. Which one you encounter depends on where you are located. If you are in an area that sees rain 350 days a year, the garden is full of ferns, evergreen trees, and flax. If you are in the Hawke’s Bay area or the east coast of the south island, the gardens tend to be dry gardens filled with succulents and cacti. This isn’t true for every garden I’ve seen, but if you were to guess what a garden would be like this is how you would bet.

Even an abandoned building has an impressive display of agaves.

Since I am in an area that tends to be sunny and dry, I figured it was fitting to write about the two plants that seem to pop up everywhere I go. Agave attenuata, the Foxtail Agave, is probably considered a weed in New Zealand by now. I have seen it covering entire garden beds, growing where I’m sure nobody intentionally planted it, and even as an oversized groundcover on a hillside. The largest specimens I’ve here have boggled my mind. Several feet across, at least. Just huge.

I don’t know how many Agave attenuata were on this hillside, but a conservative estimate would be in the hundreds.

I would have figured that A attenuata would be mostly limited to drier areas, but that isn’t the case. It does stand out more in the more arid parts of NZ, but I think that might be due to the fact that fewer plants grow in the free draining soils typical of those areas. Anyway, I think A attenuata can take a decent amount of moisture. It can also take heat in NZ, as it frequently shows up in very exposed plantings, with no shade at all. Thriving, of course.

A mass planting of A attenuata can be a nice background, provided you have enough space.

Aloe polyphylla (Spiral Aloe) is surprisingly common as well. It isn’t a plant that I’ve seen many times back in the US, which is unfortunate. It looks amazing as a small plant, and even more incredible as a mature specimen. Each leaf is so identical to it’s neighbor, and displayed at such a regular angle that it would make Hebe jealous.

Doesn’t Aloe polyphylla look great? They’re just awesome spiky green spheres

The teeth on the leaves looks almost like a miniature version of the leaf itself.

aloe polyphylla group
Aloe polyphylla does well when it is protected from harsh sun and high heat. It appreciates a little bit more moisture, as evidenced by it’s companion plants here.
Look at those teeth!
Wellington Botanical Garden


While I was busy looking at the spirals, I nearly got caught by another agave. This one had a little more attitude, and the placement of it made me wonder what the gardener was thinking. Wouldn’t you want to keep plants that can cause damage to be at least a few inches from the pathway? This clump was actually overhanging the pathway, and from the looks of it there have been plenty of close encounters.

Very sharp spines on this agave. You can see the lower spines have been broken off, possibly by unsuspecting gawker’s legs. Ouch!!

As I was busy checking my legs for spines, I happened to notice a lonely little succulent. It was dwarfed by it’s neighboring agaves, but it was doing it’s best to stand out.

I know I’ve seen this little succulent for sale before, but I’ve never seen it blooming. Completely changes the look of the plant. Do I see Agave attenuata in the background? Why am I not surprised?


One more turn and I ran face to face (nearly) with a nice clump of aloes, right at the peak of their blooms.

It’s hard to beat red blooms on a gray day.


Speaking of red, I was caught off guard when I saw this, not 10 steps away down the path (and AROUND the overhanging agave, of course).

Fascicularia bicolor! This is quite possibly the hardiest and most interesting bromeliad I’ve ever wanted. That’s saying a lot.
I’ve never seen one for sale, and certainly have never seen a colony of this size. Check out the awesome color on this blooming bromeliad.

If I could get my hands on a few of the plants I’ve mentioned here today, I would be a happy gardener. I suppose I could probably find a few Agave attenuata and Aloe polyphylla at a nursery in the US. Getting them to look as good as they do here in NZ? That might be challenging.

It’s a good thing I like challenges.

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