Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Aciphylla glaucescens in flower

Aciphylla glaucescens
     There are a few New Zealand native plants that I am obsessed with and Aciphyllas are probably number one on that list.  I think I like them because they are spiky and their shape and color just please me every time I look at a well grown speciman.  These are plants from open, alpine areas in New Zealand, and surpisingly, they are members of the carrot family. They are mostly wicked plants, however. They are very sharp and weeding around them can be a health hazard. There are supposedly some which are not so sharp, but I have not grown those.
     The one pictured above is my favorite, so far. It is A. glaucescens, so called because of the blueness of its foliage. Other good ones that I have grown are A. aurea, which has sort of orangey foliage, A. scott-thompsonii which is the largest species and has somewhat bluish foliage, A. horrida, which looked a lot like glaucescens when I grew it,  A monroi which is a small species with sort of brownish orangish foliage,  A. simplex, another small species also with brownish orangish foliage , and A. colensoi with more greenish foliage. I lust after A. dieffenbachii which has foliage that looks less spiky than other aciphyllas.
     There are two main problems with growing aciphyllas. The first is they are very hard to come by.  I am not aware of any nursery in the U.S. that is growing them right now. I did get some plants of A. simplex from Beaver Creek Greenhouses a few months ago. This is a rock garden specialist nursery in British Columbia. I have also gotten other aciphyllas from them in the past.  Sometimes Cistus Nursery carries aciphyllas but the last time I was there they did not have any available. It is worth checking with them if you want one, however.
     Aciphylla seed is available from New Zealand Tree, Jelitto, Rare Palm Seeds, and Chiltern.  I have ordered seed from all those sources in the past and have found them satisfactory. Growing aciphyllas from seed requires patience. First, the seed must be cold stratified.  New Zealand Tree recommends a 30 day cold period. One way to accomplish this is to sow the seed in small pots in a sandy mixture (not the usual peat based mixture that is sold as seed starting mix).  This can be made by adding one part sand, one part grit and 2 parts potting mix to make a seed mix. The seed should then be sowed on top of the soil which has been lightly tamped down and then covered lightly with grit. Chicken grit works for this purpose. Then it should be lightly watered in, placed in a baggy and put in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for 30 days. After that the pot can be taken outside, the baggy taken off and the waiting begins. Do not let the pot dry out while you are waiting.  Sometimes it takes quite a while for germination to begin. I have read that it could take several years, although I have found that if germination does not occur within a few months it probably never will occur.  When the aciphyllas come up they look a lot like grass so don't mistake them for grass and throw them out.
     The second difficulty with growing aciphyllas is that they are tricky to grow. They seem to be subject to dying for no discernible reason. It may be that they are particularly susceptible to soil born fungi.  I have heard it suggested that anti fungus potions be applied to the seedlings to protect against this although I have not tried it.  Last year I had three beautiful plants of Aciphylla glaucescens growing in the bed by my lioness sculpture. Then, almost overnight they all collapsed and died for no reason that I could detect.  I had a similar thing happen to a large specimen of A. scott-thompsonii that I had grown from seed and that had been in my garden for 6 or 7 years.  It was heart breaking.  The one plant of A. glaucescens that I have in my garden right now, pictured above is in a bed that is almost half sand.  I think that the lioness bed where death to aciphyllas occurred last year was too rich and not well drained enough.
     After growing these plants for many years I conclude that the best way to grow them is in the open, in full sun, in a well drained but moist location.  A fairly sandy soil seems to suit them.  These are not drought tolerant plants, however, despite their similarity to yuccas and agaves in appearance. I am pretty sure I lost aciphyllas for lack of water in the year I did not care for or water my garden. I would not crowd them with other plants and I would not allow other plants to grow over them.
     While all this seems like a lot of trouble for such a wicked plant, I still love them and just ordered a lot of seed.  Hope springs eternal!

1 comment:

  1. Never came across these before. They remind me of nolinas but spikier.