Contents of the Spring 2014 Northants News

Agave victoriae-reginae                             Tina Wardhaugh

Agave victoriae-reginae -   Why we should all grow one  

Agave victoria-reginae, or Agave victoriae-reginae subsp. victoriae-reginae, to give it its correct full current title, is probably the most popular agave in collections. It has been in cultivation for well over 130 years.

This species was first described in 1875 by Thomas Moore, who said that ‘this remarkably distinct species of Agave was first seen in public at the International Exhibition held in Cologne in September last’ (i.e. in 1874). He went on to say that ‘the name adopted by Mr. Peacock has been given by the express permission of Her Majesty the Queen’ (Moore, 1875).

victoriae-reginae 'Green'

victoriae-reginae 'Compacta'

It is a very slow growing attractive Agave which is considered to be one of the most beautiful and desirable species. It’s found in habitat in Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Durango, Mexico. Normally a solitary individual but some will offset heavily when young. It grows up to 45cm in diameter but this size does take a long time to achieve so it will be a long time before it outgrows its welcome; if you keep it underpotted it will take longer to attain full size.

Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Green’

Agave victoriae-reginae 'Compacta’  

My first agave was an A. victoriae-reginae that I purchased more than 23 years ago, it’s in a 12 inch pan; I was lucky that this plant is actually a green/pale green ‘Marginata’ form. Cultivation wise they are easy to keep and young plants grow best if they are regularly repotted and given plenty of water when in good growth, it’s surprising how much water they will take up. Mine have a light feed very often during the summer; I use Chempak No 8 low nitrogen feed at about half the recommended dilution. They will happily grow in greenhouses at 5oC, it’s best if they are kept on the drier side if you keep them at this low temperature. The majority of my agave collection is housed in a 20 X10 ft. greenhouse with the temperature set at 10 oC.

As the British weather is so variable, and I grow a lot of variegated agaves, I keep the bubble wrap up in the ‘agave end’ all year as I have sometimes had variegated agaves scorch when we have had a sunny day after several grey days; it’s just not worth the risk for me to remove it.

I have many forms of A. victoriae-reginae with the larger portion of my collection being variegated, some have cultivar names official and unofficial; there are white, yellow, pale green marginated forms and yellow, white mediopicta forms and even one which is a very rare striated form. 

Agave victoriae-reginae 'Golden Prince'

Agave victoriae-reginae 'Large Yellow'

Agave victoriae-reginae 'Striata'

Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Golden Prince’

Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Large Yellow ’ Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Striata’

I also have two which are photosensitive forms which grow green during the winter but once exposed to some sunlight you get random patches of variegation. All of them are very beautiful and no collection is complete without one plant in your greenhouse. If you like the really unusual then I even have a crested A. victoriae-reginae which is seriously ODD looking, as well as being very rare as agaves rarely have crested or monstrose growth.

Sourcing variegated plants can be hard but if you get some offsets established from your own plants you can normally find other agave enthusiasts to swap with. Variegated agaves should come with a ‘wealth warning‘ as once you have collected the normal easy/cheap to buy ones then you have to resort to sourcing the more desirable forms which always cost more and that’s if you can find someone who will part with them. I tend to go by sight when I buy or swap as the naming of variegated agaves is very random and few clones have official names apart from some of the ones from the USA tissue culture company.

A photosensitive Agave victoriae-reginae

cristate Agave victoriae-reginae

A ’photosensitive’ Agave which changes its colour depending on the amount of sunlight.

An unusual cristate Agave VR.

Problems and pests for these plants are very few as they are very tough plants. They can sometimes sulk for up to a year when repotted so when I do this I try to disturb the root ball as little as possible so it’s potting on really.

split leaf on an Agave

The other problem I sometimes find with ‘Mediopicta’ forms is they are very slow growers and more prone to leaf split (see picture), this seems to be true of all variegated agaves and the mediopicta plants are the slowest to grow and rarely offset so no swaps.

They sometimes get root mealy but I tend to treat mine twice a year with Provado vine weevil treatment just to be careful. I have had some unusual brown marks that showed up on new growth which I have put down to Western flower thrips (after advice) but I’m not positive. It was suggested that this is the damage caused when they overwinter in the crown of agaves, it only happened to a few plants.

All in all a must have for the cactus connoisseur or even the Agave addict.


A touch too much water and the leaves split!


Moore,T. (1875) New garden plants. Agave Victoriae Reginae sp. n. Gard. Chron., 4: 484−5.

Agave victoriae-reginae in habitat

Ed: Thanks Tina for the great pictures and article. Some most attractive forms there but I am not sure about that cristate! I have a few Agaves including some forms of A. victoriae-reginae which I enjoy and find very tolerant of my neglect. They have all been well frozen on occasion though I hesitate to recommend this for the rare forms. Looks like we can add split leaves to the broken spines as a fault when judging these.

For comparison here is the species in habitat in the Huasteca Canyon, near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. We saw some superb plants of this attractive species. Would it fit your greenhouse? The nearer plant is 63cm across, (just over two feet), and there were some bigger. In the background you can see Agave lechuguilla, probably the least desirable Agave.



Ernest Hepworth F.R.H.S.                               Doug Rowland

Before he passed away Doug wrote this last piece as a filler. And guess what? It just fills this space, (well on the printed page). Thanks Doug.

Over time, our society has produced quite a number of characters. Chris Pitcher, who invented caudiciform plants, and “Euphorbia” Young come to mind. In the mid 1960s Jimmy Machon and Harry Smith arranged a visit to the Ernie Hepworth establishment. These were members of the Cambridge branch. Jimmy working in printing in the city, Harry had been part of air crew on Lancaster bombers during the war. Ernest used to advertise in the journal and grew Lithops plants from seeds. Jim and Harry travelled to the south of England and met Mr Hepworth. His garden was full of bric a brac, with many old boots and shoes with the toe cut off sprouting Sempervivums as ‘toes’. Further into the garden Mr Hepworth had a large heated greenhouse with a collection of South American, green, topical, tree frogs which Harry and Jim enjoyed as Ernie gave a short talk on these creatures. Eventually the lads visited the Lithops growing houses and bought a selection of Lithops species. It had been an enjoyable day out. Ernie used to do a postal service and I bought from him several times. The plants were all of good quality but occasionally rather small. This being due to the fact that you can sell plants much faster than you can grow them.

Doug Rowland

January 2013

ED: I also bought plants from Ernest Hepworth in my early days in the hobby. I still have a spreading Haageocereus after 30 years which has survived my mistreatment. Seeing a superb plant of this from the same source in an Isle of Wight collection I was prompted to repot mine. Members of the Northants Branch visited his nursery and the story goes that one of the wags attempted to try on a concrete boot. Ernest was alleged to have said, “You can’t wear that, it’s made of concrete.” It was what passed for humour in the 60s.

 back to contents of Northants News