I am writing about Furcraea parmentieri on the request of one of our readers. A synonym for this species is Furcraea bedinghausii, named after Hermann Joseph Bedinghaus. Says our reader, “(Bedinghaus) produced one of the earliest commercially useful cultivars of gladiolus, Gladiolus x gandavensis Van Houtte, and is considered to be a founding member of the gladiolus fraternity.” This reader has been having a difficult time finding more information about Bedinghaus, and is hoping one of you can provide her with more information. Please comment if you are a Bedinghaus scholar!
Furcraea parmentieri is endemic to Mexico, growing only in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. It is the most prominent species in an ecosystem type that Velázquez and Cleef (1993) (PDF) call the mega-rosette community. Mega-rosette indeed. The young plants of Furcraea parmentieri form a rosette of stiff, blue-grey leaves. As these plants mature, a tall trunk forms, felted with the remains of old leaves. The trunk may reach a height of 3.5 meters, giving Furcraea parmentieri a palm-like appearance.
Somewhere between the age of 15-50 years, Furcraea parmentieri plants send up an impressive, 3 meter-tall inflorescence bearing panicles of white to cream-coloured flowers. Despite an abundance of flowers, Furcraea parmentieri seldom forms fruits. The article, The Community of Furcraea parmentieri: a threatened specie [sic], Central Mexico (2013), notes that wild populations of Furcraea parmentieri are genetically very similar, indicating that this species primarily reproduces clonally rather than through seed. It does this by forming hundreds to thousands of bulbils–plantlets that form in the axils of the bracteoles (the small leaf directly below the flower) of the mother plant. Since the bulbils form only on the inflorescence, Furcraea parmentieri‘s method of vegetative reproduction is, ironically, intimately linked to flowering. Following the senescence of the flowers, the mother plant will die (as do all monocarpic species). If it is lucky, at least some of its bulbils will take root and begin the cycle anew.
Although Fulcraea parmentieri has a limited native range, it is hardy to temperatures of -5°C provided it is planted in a dry, free-draining soil. Some private and botanic gardens in Europe, North America, and Australasia cultivate Fulcraea parmentieri as an ornamental species. One of today’s photographers, Gareth, comments that the Dunedin Botanic Garden has a particularly nice display of this species. Gareth also notes that individual Fulcraea parmentieri plants tend to flower during the same year (a phenomenon known as masting). This creates a spectacular show, but leaves a sad absence in the garden once all the mature plants have died.