Mad About Mangave

First, a pronunciation guide: man-gah-vay. Think agave and you’ll get it right every time. In fact this hybrid group between two genera (that’s what that little x stands for in front of their botanical names) owes half of its genes to a variety of Agave species and cultivars.

The resulting 40 varieties are the product of a little ingenuity and a wild idea that germinated over a decade ago at Walter’s Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan. Through their generosity, we have a nearly complete collection at the Botanical Garden, a remarkable snapshot of genetic diversity.

Assistant Director of Horticulture Aaron Harpold’s Top Five

Manfreda undulata ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’
12 inches tall x 48 inches wide
Visitors can’t get enough of the confectionary pleasures of this Manfreda, actually just a selection of one of the parent species used to create the hybrids in the rest of the collection. Sometimes things are good enough just the way they are. “I like everything about this plant. The rippled form and splattered patterning of this plant catches my eye every time,” says Aaron.

x Mangave ‘Kaleidescope’
18 inches tall x 24 inches wide
This sport of ‘Jaguar’, which grows in the conservatory desert garden, begins its growth cycle with green and yellow variegated leaves. In bright light, like the kind it receives on the conservatory balcony, it reveals red blushing from the base of the rosette. “The emerging undertones have been a fun surprise, even though I knew they were coming,” says Aaron.

x Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’
24 inches tall x 48 inches wide
“I like the blush on the silver-grey leaves of this plant. This one seems the most agave-like of the bunch, and I love that it is going to get huge,” Aaron says.

x Mangave ‘Moonglow’
6 inches tall x 24 inches wide
Aaron appreciates ‘Moon Glow’ for its modest size, making it great for container culture. “To me this plant should be called ‘Oil Stain’, and I say that lovingly,” he says.

x Mangave ‘Silver Fox’
11 inches tall x 22 inches wide
Another Agave lookalike, this variety underscores the versatility of these new hybrids—grow the like annual agaves and don’t worry about hauling them in if you don’t want to. Their rapid growth is instant gratification.

“This is a nice tight plant,” says Aaron in reference to its growth habit. “I love the toothiness of it, and the way those jagged shadows make a pattern on the leaf blade itself. It’s as though the leaves have fossil shadows stenciled on them.”

How to Grow x Mangave

Light: Full sun
Moisture: On the dry side, but even succulents like these need a little water now and again.
Where: In containers or the open garden
Longevity: While technically perennials (unlike their live-until-they-bloom parental agaves), most Midwestern gardeners will probably grow these as annuals or houseplants given that none in the current collection are hardy beyond USDA Zone 7.