Sunday, 16 November 2008

Furcraea bedinghausii


This is a most distinctive plant, with a long and most confusing history. It has been grown at Monserrate since the earliest days of Francis Cook, firstly as a Yucca, then a Roezlia, and finally as a Furcraea bedinghausii. Finally that is, until sr. Gárcia-Mendoza made his revision of the genus in 2000. We must now learn to call it Furcraea parmentieri.

Long-lived and prolific, it is found all over Sintra. Monocarpic and spectacular in its floral demise, thousands of plantlets are produced, each capable of generating a new plant with the greatest of ease. Many thousands must have been slipped into pockets and transported to new homes by generations of Sintra tourists. Lazy gardeners, tired of novelty, have reproduced them prodigiously. All of that is fine. The effect is extremely handsome.

A decade is nothing to these plants. They grow slowly to achieve considerable bulk. Trunks three or four metres high with crowns almost 2 metres in diametre. After ten or twenty, or more years, they will throw up an extravagant flowerspike - often five metres above trunk height. Millions of creamy white lilies are hung from this great scaffold. A few will produce seed pods, but the rest sprout viviparous shoots that turn into bulblets. Some winters, especially cold and wet ones, will produce a flowering bonanza, the giants commiting collective suicide, leaving behind a population of dwarfs to take their place.

The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany and Rural affairs, 1860, gave notice of the introduction of Yucca parmentieri to English collections. Most likely, it came over to Portugal shortly afterwards. They have been grown with great success at Tresco since 1894 (Will Giles). In 1900 it was described in the catalogue of the Southern California Acclimatizing Association, of Santa Barbara. No doubt it had reached these parts long before. The nomenclature was already confused: "Yucca Parmentieri and other names; one of the most striking and majestic decorative plants; a very rapid grower: builds a stout trunk 15 feet high"

La Belgique horticole, journal des jardins et des vergers
1863, volume 13. Lithograph by L. Severeyns-Michel

Megarosettes of Furcraea bedinghausii indicate a vegetation type restricted to the rolling, dissected, rocky lower slopes of a few volcanoes in central México, such as Pelado (3090-3340m) and Tláloc. Soils are shallow, gravely, loamy clays (pH 5.0 – 6.5). Half-meter-high monocaulescent agavaceous megarosettes of the endemic Furcraea bedinghausii characterize this community. The maximum height ever measured for Furcraea is 5.3m. A floristically rich but relatively open herb layer is common. Other characteristic species include Senecio angulifolius, Stipa ichu, Symphoricarpos microphyllus, Conyza schiedeana, Muhlenbergia macroura, M. dentate, Geranium potentillaefolium, Gnaphalium oxyphyllum, Alchemilla procumbens, Sibthorpia repens, and Festuca amplissima.

Barbour & Billings, North American Terrestial Vegetation, p. 584

Related species: Furcraea longaeva Karw. & Zucc.
Type-Locality: Crescit in summo monte Tanga, provinciae Oaxaca, 10000 pedes supra Oceanum in declivibus Quercubus et Arbutis cositis., may 1829
Collector and Number: W.F. Karwinsky s.n.
Distribution: Mexico (Oaxaca); Guatemala

Coastal slopes, Oak-woodland with Arbutus. Once again sounds like Sintra.

Furcraea parmentieri – Amaryllidaceae

Furcraea parmentieri (Roezl ex Ortgies) García-Mend.
García-Mendoza, A. 2000. Revisión taxonómica de las especies arborescentes de Furcraea (Agavaceae) en México y Guatemala. Bol. Soc. Bot. México 66: 113–129.
Furcraea longaeva subsp. bedinghausii (K. Koch) B. Ullrich (Cactaceas y suculentas mexicanas 36(2): 35. 1991)
Furcraea bedinghausii K. Koch (Wochenscrift des Vereines zur Befördung des Gärtenbaues in den Königl. Preussischen Staaten für Gärtnerei und Pflanzenkunde 6(30): 233. 1863.) Type : Morren, Belgique Hort. 13(11): 327, t. (1863)
Yucca parmentieri Roezl ex Ortgies Gartenflora 8(9): 278. 1859.

Extensive list of synonyms identified by García-Mendoza, A. 2000
Agave argyrophylla K. Koch ; Agave toneliana (K. Koch) E. Morren
Beschorneria floribunda K. Koch ; Beschorneria multiflora K. Koch
Furcraea bedinghausii K. Koch ; Furcraea roezlii André
Lilium regium Trel.
Roezlia bulbifera Roezl ; Roezlia regia Lem. ; Roezlia regina Trel.
Yucca argyraea Trel.; Yucca argyrophylla (K. Koch) Lem. ; Yucca parmentieri Roezl ex Ortgies ;
Yucca pringlei Greenm. ; Yucca toneliana K. Koch

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