Shoots bring summer wonder
IT HAPPENS every year about this time. All over Tasmania a certain plant starts to grow so incredibly fast that in just three weeks it can reach up to 8m. And the queries keep flowing in about this extraordinary plant.
A week or so ago, a lady sent a photograph asking me what on earth was the name of this weird, high- speed tree.
In fact, this is no tree but a type of succulent commonly called the Century Plant ( scientific name Agave americana). It originates from Mexico but thrives here in Tasmania.
This astonishing plant develops an enormous rosette of massive leaves, with edges sporting blunt prickles.
It can take up to 20 years to flower, hence the popular but inaccurate name Century Plant, but when it does so, the powerful, single, trunk- like flower spike emerges and grows so rapidly we can almost watch it happening.
As it reaches its full height the top part opens up to display dozens of yellow and green flowers on long stems, looking like some weird Christmas tree.
This remarkable effort is so exhausting that even as flower- heads wither, the entire plant dies.
Agave americana produces great quantities of a sweetish sap, which when allowed to become fermented is a source of the alcoholic drink tequila.
In Mexico the flowers are pollinated by humming birds. Avoid cutting into this giant stem because the sap flows freely and can cause serious skin irritation.
Another slightly related semi- succulent shrub also comes into flower during early summer and similarly attracts a great deal of curiosity.
Yucca gloriosa ( Spanish Dagger) does well in extra- dry, sandy soils, but can also be grown in most well- drained conditions.
This extra- tough, frost- hardy but highly attractive plant thrives in coastal sand dunes despite strong, salt- laden winds.
The leaves are narrow, deep green and each has a sharp tip.
However, the flower spike can grow 2m to 3m and produces magnificent clusters of big, pearly white, bell- shaped flowers.
This remarkable, easily grown shrub – which comes from south- east US – appears to thrive, even if totally neglected and never watered or fed. Most live for many years, always flowering during the Christmas holiday period.
One large shrub or small tree now about to come into December display regularly attracts dozens of inquiries – mainly because it is relatively unfamiliar, yet particularly spectacular when in full bloom. This is the Nepal Strawberry Tree ( Cornus
capitata), which originates from the Himalayan regions.
In fact, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen was growing in a garden high up the side of Mt Wellington, right on the edge of the tree line. Clearly they can withstand the most intense cold and heavy snow.
The “flowers” are actually modified leaves or bracts and are a superb sulphur- yellow.
The tree can grow up to 5m with a rounded top which is even wider. When in display the entire canopy is covered with so many bracts it is almost impossible to see the leaves or branches.
This is the ultimate traffic- stopper. Afterwards the flowering bracts are replaced by enormous numbers of giant, deep- red, strawberry- like fruit which, although inedible to humans, are relished by birds. The hard seeds are easily germinated to create new plants.