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Plant Highlight: Furcraea selloa

November 2005

The genus Furcraea is closely related to Agave, but it is a much smaller group:  20 species plus an additional variety are listed in a 2001 write-up on the genus. Like Agave, Furcraea has a New World distribution, but its range is a little more southerly. While Agave ranges from the southern United States down to northern South America, Furcraea extends from central Mexico to Bolivia. Both genera also occur on islands in the Caribbean. Both are monocarpic as well; that is, the rosette of leaves flowers only once, putting all its energy into the effort and then expiring. Furcraeas differ, however, in having pendulous flowers, which are always white or greenish-white.

Like most furcraeas, F. selloa is bulbilliferous; that is, many plantlets are formed on the inflorescence after flowering. These eventually fall to the ground and provide an easy means of propagating the plants. The production of flowers is an impressive event:  inflorescence height is listed as “to 6 meters tall” (20 feet), but our plant at The Ruth Bancroft Garden looks as though it may have exceeded this figure.

The large leaves of Furcraea selloa are green (edged with yellow in the case of our variegated specimen), sword-shaped, and armed with sharp teeth along the edges. Though plants start out stemless, they develop a short stem of up to 1½ meters (nearly 5 feet) by the time of flowering. Though long cultivated and thought to have originated in Guatemala, no wild population of F. selloa has been documented.