By: Laura Miller
The chocolate chip plant (Manfreda undulata) is avisually interesting species of succulentwhich makes an attractive addition to the flowerbed. The chocolate chipmanfreda resembles a low-growing rosette with frilly leaves. The dark greenfoliage is dotted with attractive chocolate brown spots. The resemblance tochocolate chips gives this variety its name.
Manfredaplants are closely related to the agave family, which explains why thisvariety of manfreda is sometimes called the chocolate chip false agave. Likemany varieties of manfreda, chocolate chip doesn’t die after blooming as do agaveplants. Planted outdoors, it blooms during June in the Northern Hemisphere orDecember south of the equator. The buds form on tall stalks in late spring,followed by fascinating wiry type blossoms.
The chocolate chip plant has a low-growing profile, onlyreaching heights of about 4 inches (10 cm.) tall. Its elegantly arched,spineless leaves bear resemblance to a starfish. The long succulent leaves givethe plant a diameter of 15 inches (38 cm.) or more. This native of Mexicoretains its leaves year-round but only in tropical climates or whenoverwintered indoors.
Manfreda chocolate chip plants are deep rooted and prefer awell-drained, drier soil. They perform well even in poor soil with a rocky orgritty growing medium. For container gardening, use a pot which offers plentyof vertical root space. A minimum of 12 inches (30 cm.) deep is recommended.
Plant in a sunny location; however, they do prefer a bit ofafternoon shade in hot climates. Once established, chocolate chip plants are droughtresistant. Supplementing water during dry spells keeps succulent leaves firm.
Chocolate chip is root hardy to USDA zone 8 but may lose itsleaves during the winter. It does well as a container plant and can be broughtinside when grown in colder climates. It’s best to reduce watering of pottedmanfreda during winter dormancy to prevent the roots from rotting.
Chocolate chip false agave can be propagated by offsets butproduces these very slowly. It can also be grown from seeds. Germination takes7 to 21 days at room temperature. In addition to its visual appeal, it is also verticilliumwilt resistant and can be planted in areas where this virus has been anissue.
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|Genus:||Agave (a-GAH-vee) (Info)|
|Species:||undulata (un-dew-LAY-tuh) (Info)|
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
Can be grown as an annual
From seed sow indoors before last frost
Collect seedhead/pod when flowers fade allow to dry
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Kure Beach, North Carolina
On Jun 18, 2017, Engarden from Santa Rosa, CA wrote:
I bought this plant @ the Ruth Bancroft garden, Walnut Creek, Ca. A couple years ago. Does fine as a potted plant, but I kept it in the greenhouse during the winter just in case the soil & roots froze, even though the tops die back to the ground in winter. It is blooming now, 6/19/2017. The flower stalk is about four feet tall, the flower petals are blackish, the long whisker like anthers also black, pistil black, and it emits a chemical, unpleasant musty smell
(Bat pollinated ??). No pups on it yet, but hopefully after bloom it will pup. The blooming rosette will probably die afterwards like an agave.
I am crossing it with agave univittata, hopefully to get some
" X mangaves".
I’m testing more than 30 Mangave cultivars in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago from Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens, a wholesale perennial grower in Zeeland, MI. Hans is the world’s leading breeder of mangaves, and the first to reproduce them via tissue culture.
The hard part for breeders is selecting the true champions. Like a litter of puppies, plant crosses may look terrific, but how will they behave? It may take years to find out, and reports (like this) from gardeners far and wide provide important data.
Mangave is an intergeneric cross of Manfreda and Agave, and in the list below I’ve included each cultivar’s parentage (if available). All have speckled, dotted or blotchy leaves unless otherwise noted.
Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’From Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin.
The first mangave arrived on the gardening scene 15 years ago: the cultivar ‘Macho Mocha’. According to San Marcos Growers: “…reported to be hardy to 9° F by Tony Avent in North Carolina. This 2004 Yucca Do Nursery introduction…was from seed collected by Carl Schoenfeld while on a plant exploration trip into Mexico.” It attains 2 to 3 feet in height by 4 to 6 feet in diameter.
The best guess is that Agave macroacantha x Manfreda maculata = Mangave ‘Bloodspot’
Next came Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (2008 1 foot high by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy to 20-25 degrees.) The origin is unclear San Marcos Growers suspects Japan.
In my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed, 2015, pp. 224-225), I show both ‘Bloodspot’ and “Macho Mocha’ and say, “If plants can be fashionable, the latest stars are mangaves.” I still feel that way. Mangaves are new, beautiful, interesting, as easy to grow as any succulent—and as for hybridization, the sky’s the limit.
I don’t grow many exotic succulents. I’m into creating a beautiful garden with those easy to come by. (If common succulents don’t thrive, there’s no great loss.) My few rarities are in pots where I can keep an eye on them. So when the box of mangaves arrived, into pots they went…for the most part. In hindsight, that probably protected a few of them but kept others from attaining their full potential. Regardless, two years later, I’m pleased to report all are alive and well.
I’ll never forget opening that shipment back in 2017. The plants had been greenhouse-grown, and boxing and shipping had caused broken leaves. That made me groan, but I quickly became caught up in identifying their agave parentage. I said aloud to a plant with wavy leaves that looked trimmed with pinking shears, “I’ll bet you’re from Agave gypsophila.” To the spitting image of a very common green agave that was a surprising lavender, I murmured, “Surely you’re not related to Agave attenuata?” All in all, those mangaves were the best gifts I’d ever received from someone I hadn’t met.
Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’
I knew nothing about manfredas, the lily side of mangaves, so I was pleased that Hans had included two.
Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is a variegated sport of Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chip’.
One manfreda went into a pot, the other, into the ground. The latter started out glorious and stayed that way. In fact, Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is now among my favorite plants.
I sheltered all 14 as best as I could from extremes of sun, heat and cold. As it turns out, that may not have been necessary.
Not taking any chances, I potted and shaded my new mangaves.
The list below describes plants from the first shipment and coincides with my January, 2019 video: “Mangaves in My Garden.” Some need repotting or a better location, which I’ve done since or soon will do.
Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ (introduced 2017, see above), has floppy, wavy, narrow leaves. It was beautiful in a pot for months, then seemed to suffer in the summer heat. A section (perhaps a separate plant) bloomed and died back. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery says the rest may have simply gone dormant after blooming and will come back. [See my mangave interview with Tony.] It also may have needed more water than I was giving it, or it wanted to be in the ground. In summer, leaves lost their sheen, and tips dried and shriveled. In fall, ants colonized the container. Above is how it looks now, revived by winter rains.
Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ (see above) looks delicate but isn’t. (Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity. Zones 7b to 9b?) It has done well in a sheltered bed alongside a wall that bounces sunlight onto it, doubtless helping its color. Spider-shaped with tapering, rippled, ribbonlike leaves, it’s fascinating, as are its red blotches and creamy white margins. I’m thinking of removing any blooms to keep the plant strong.
Mangave ‘Carnival’ is a Mangave ‘Jaguar’ cross. Its variegation is the reverse of Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’.
Mangave ‘Carnival’ exhibits the best and worst characteristics of the new genus: Wonderful rosy-red dots blend with pink, green and cream (the best) and leaves that are too fragile for the plant to exist unscathed in the open garden. It also doesn’t like the summer heat of inland southern CA.
Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ in my garden (top) and as shown on the Walters Gardens website. (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave colorata
Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ (2017) has languished in a too-shady spot in my garden, growing and even offsetting, but producing no color other than silvery-blue. Its leaves have elongated, and their pie-crust edges hearken to its A. gypsophila parentage. I may have to move it into greater light to get it to look more like the photo on the Walters site.
Mangave ‘Inkblot’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)
Mangave ‘Inkblot’ has long, narrow, flexible, dark green leaves thickly dotted with inky blotches that give it a reptilian look. It’s not a thing of beauty, but it’s interesting.
Above: Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ given the right amount of sun.
The same plant, after being transplanted into an garden bed that gets too little light.
Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ (2016 variegated sport of Mangave ‘Jaguar’. Sun to part shade, 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide at maturity.) ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a fast-growing, stunningly striped and mottled, large multicolored succulent that glows beautifully when backlit. I first planted it in a pot which it quickly outgrew, then transplanted it into the ground where it probably needs more sun. Rather than replanting it a third time, I’ll just trim the tree that’s shading it.
Agave attenuata x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’
Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (2017. Sun to part shade. 12 inches tall by 20 inches wide at maturity. Frost tender.) Having grown both parents, I was delighted to meet their lavender-gray offspring. I’ve had it in a pink pot for two years, possibly stunting it. I’ll soon find it a place in the garden—one that’s frost-free, because this lovely cultivar lacks hardiness.
Agave stricta x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Man of Steel’
Mangave ‘Man of Steel’. I’m familiar with both parents, so unpacking this beauty was like a family reunion. Both ‘Bloodspot’ and A. stricta are stiff-leaved, so not surprisingly their offspring is, too. On the plus side, ‘Man of Steel’ is not as delicate as other mangaves. Its thin, silvery, downward-curving leaves offer an elegant and symmetrical—if pointy—silhouette.
Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (Manfreda jaliscana x Agave lophantha) x Agave shawii.
Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (2017. Anticipated to be 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity, Zones 9a to 11?). I’m unfamiliar with its manfreda parent but it must be red and soft, because its agave parents are green, gray and stiff-leaved. The hybrid’s many red blotches nearly cover any green, but in my garden some leaf tips have shriveled. What it lacks in symmetry and form it makes up for in color…pretty much. I might dig it up and see if it does better in a pot.
Mangave ‘Moonglow’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)
Mangave ‘Moonglow’. Showing the best of both parents with soft, wavy-edged and curling slender leaves, this suggests ‘Inkblot’ with more of a bluish cast. Dots are thick and maroon. I have it in a blue pot that suits it.
Mangave ‘Pineapple Express'
Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ on the Walters Gardens website looks like the foliage atop a pineapple, only speckled. The one I planted in a pedestal pot doesn’t have a pronounced, stacked-leaf growth habit. It has stayed fountainlike and nicely dotted, but yellow-green. I’ve since removed it from the pot and expect good things from it in the ground.
Agave gypsophila x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Silver Fox’.
Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ (2017. Sun to part shade. Zones 9a to 11? Eleven inches tall by 22 inches wide at maturity.) Nursery photos show a compact, wavy rosette that’s distinctly silvery-purple and rosy-dotted. Mine looks more like a short-leaved gypsophila, minimally freckled. It’s happy but possibly needs more light.
Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave bovicornuta.
Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’. This has performed well in my garden and colored up nicely. Its gently twisting, soft, greenish-yellow leaves are well freckled with red. A favorite.
Mangave ‘Whale Tale’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave ovatifolia.
Mangave ‘Whale Tale’ (2018. Sun to part shade. Zones 7b to 11? Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity.) Mine has no speckles and simply looks like a nice silver agave with darker areas that lack pulverulence. It’s a lovely plant but again, it probably needs more sun to enhance its color. In my garden, that’s invariably a trade-off: More sun equals greater danger of beige sunburned patches and brown, dry leaf tips.
If you’re into succulents, you’re well aware of agaves. But chances are you’ve never heard of the genus Manfreda. After all, it’s not in the Sunset Western Garden Book. There exist 35 species of these lilylike succulents. Like Agave, Manfreda hails from Mexico, but also ranges much farther north and east. The genus is closely enough related to Agave that the plants can cross, although this rarely happens in nature. Manfreda is also related to Polianthes. Plants in both genera are commonly referred to as tuberoses.
Tuberose leaves form rosettes from a short stem and send up fragrant flowers along slender stalks. Flowers are tubular and whitish, yellow, green, or brownish, with long stamens. Some are wonderfully fragrant. Manfredas, unlike agaves, don’t die after flowering—a nice characteristic they pass on to their intergeneric crosses, the mangaves. Leaf margins of manfredas are smooth or slightly serrated and lack spiny tips.
Manfreda maculosa is the progenitor of numerous crosses
Spotted manfreda, (Manfreda maculosa, commonly called Texas tuberose) has silvery-green leaves covered with purple spots. It’s the one most often seen in cultivation.
According to Plant Delights Nursery: “Like its Agave daddy, x Mangave are evergreen (above freezing) and like its Manfreda momma, it is polycarpic (doesn’t die after flowering) and attracts hummingbirds. The agave parent contributes the evergreen nature and the form, while the manfreda parent contributes the purple spotted pigment. Both parents contribute drought-tolerance and an aversion to winter moisture.”
Mangaves in My Garden
Back in 2017, before my first shipment arrived, mangaves were not entirely unknown to me. I’d seen two cultivars in high-end gardens by San Diego designer Michael Buckner. I considered the plants expensive rarities and suspected they probably wouldn’t thrive in the comparatively rigorous conditions of my own garden. Located in the foothills of inland San Diego County on a steep, terraced, east-facing slope, it gets frost every winter (down to the high 20s F) and near-desert heat in late summer (into the 90s for weeks). Although I’ve been amending the soil for decades, the substrate is decomposed granite (not a bad thing, it’s well draining) and clay (never a good thing.) Fortunately there’s not a lot of clay—about enough to build an adobe dog house.
The succulents that thrive out in the open in my garden are those that aren’t picky. Full-sun, frost-prone areas are OK for agaves and cacti, and those Southwest succulents that store water in their trunks, such as dasylirions, yuccas and beaucarneas. I have every kind of aeonium in the dappled shade of native oaks and beneath lacy trees, and quite a few aloes, although it’s a balancing act to give the latter adequate protection from weather extremes yet enough sun to bloom.
Tender succulents such as jades, kalanchoes and euphorbias grow in frost-free microclimates beneath eaves, where they bask in half a day’s sun. Apart from shade succulents like sansevierias and toughies like graptoverias and Mexican sedums, others (like echeverias, haworthias and stapeliads) are in pots that I move or shelter as seasons change.
So what about your garden?
Manfredas prefer full sun, short of scorching well-drained soil that’s kept on the dry side and room for their root systems to expand. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep. I’ve noticed that mangaves with established rootballs can be difficult to remove from pots. Some sources say that Mangave is a slow grower others, that it’s much faster than Agave. So far, with the exception of ‘Kaleidoscope’—a mangave on steroids—they seem about the same.
Late spring and summer is the growth season. Like most succulents, mangaves appreciate a dose of diluted fertilizer when emerging from dormancy. They’re fine outdoors in mild climates with minimal rainfall, typical of Southern CA. Elsewhere, overwinter them indoors. Keep them cool and the soil barely moist. In spring, return them to the garden and reintroduce to full sun gradually. They’re not great indoor plants because they need ultraviolet light to color-up.
As for garden design, the aesthetic uses of mangaves are only beginning to be explored. I anticipate that they’ll become commonplace in low-water landscapes throughout the Southwest, likely with a broader range than South African succulents, but not venturing into desert gardens. I could be wrong about that, but mine don’t seem to like late-summer heat. The plants’ soft, arching leaves and interesting spotting and striping will likely make them collectible novelties, beginning in California and spreading worldwide.
By the mid-’20s, mangaves will doubtless be commonplace. The certainty of new cultivars selected for desirable colors, variegation, toughness, growth habit and size means there’s no limit to what’s possible—from upright, spiky, speckled, stiff-leaved, agave-lookalikes to ribbon-foliaged lilies that are languorous, loopy, crenellated, freckled and noodle-soft.
The main drawback to early Mangave cultivars, especially those bred not to “bite” (i.e. they lack the needlelike tips and barbed teeth of their Agave parents) is soft, flexible, thin and brittle foliage that’s prone to tearing or breaking, and is easily damaged by snails or impact. Place such plants out of harm’s way to avoid compromising their beautiful symmetry. Although they’ll outgrow breakage, mangaves are succulents that shouldn’t be stepped on, even by a chihuahua.
They’re also vulnerable to agave snout weevil infestation.
Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC
According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.” Founded in 1988, Avent’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives…[Continue reading]
Visit the Mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.
Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen by following his Facebook “Mad About Mangave” page.
Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera!
Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well and some better than others. I evaluate the plants’ progress and how to attain their full beauty and potential.
With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.
So many plants, so little time
One of the blogs I follow, Loree Bohl’s Danger Garden, has a regular feature dedicated to Loree’s favorite plant in the garden in any given week. I’ve long wanted to do something similar, so this is my first entry in the Plant of the Week category.
My favorite this week is a plant I picked up at Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol, CA a couple of Sunday ago. I was immediately attracted to its rather odd look: deeply guttered leaves with wavy margins and bold brown spots. Another plant that would be right at home in a Dr Seuss garden.
This interesting looking fella is a Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chips’. Manfredas—there about 20 different species and an increasing number of cultivars and hybrids—are closely related to agaves. Like agaves, they form rosettes and and their flowers appear at the end of a long stalk. Unlike agaves, however, manfredas are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the winter) and polycarpic (they don’t die after flowering).
Their flowers are quite strange as well. Plant Delights describes them as “alien antennae-like.” This post on Pam Penick’s blog Digging has a couple of photos.
Some manfredas like Manfreda maculosa and Manfreda virginica, are native to the U.S. Manfreda undulata is from Mexico, and ‘Chocolate Chips’ was found by Carl Schoenfeld of Yucca Do Nursery in a batch of seedlings.
The plant I bought at Peacock Horticultural Nursery came in a 4-inch container so it’s quite small. I certainly didn’t expect to find roots like these:
They look like a tangle of soba noodles!
I just read that manfredas have extensive root systems. I wonder how large the roots are on a mature Manfreda undulata!
For now, I’m keeping my specimen confined to a pot but I may plant it out eventually.
Most manfredas, including Manfreda undulata and Manfred maculosa, are hardy down to 0°F (zone 7a). This allows them to be planted in the ground in much of the country. While not exactly rare, they’re not regular nursery fare either so you may have to do some poking around (or order from an online source).
Name: Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chips’
Mature size: 12” high x 24” wide
Location: Full sun
Water needs: Low
Hardiness: 0°F (zone 7a)
I know plant "loves" are personal things, but I'm reserving judgement on this one until I see its more mature form. It's got some nice qualities, but. I don't know. Will manfredas colonize like many agaves? That would be quite nice I think.
I totally get what you're saying. Plant preferences are as subjective as any other kind of preference. A mature specimen is definitely more impressive.
Virtually all manfredas form clumps so I expect this one to do the same--although oddly enough all the photos I've seen are of individual plants.
So glad you joined in the fun Gerhard, I do really enjoy seeing what others are lovin in their garden, even when the object of their affection isn't one I would chose. Yours however, it's wonderful! My 'chocolate chips' bloomed this summer and 3 seed pods have formed. I keep waiting for them to break open but so far there is no indication they're ready.
Manfreda flowers are so weird, aren't they?
Has your 'Chocolate Chips' started to offset yet? See Alan's question above.
I just lost my Chocolate Chips recently, I'm pining for a replacement now.
I'm sorry to hear. What happened? I'd be curious to know if there's anything in particular I should pay attention to.
I must admit I like the name more than I like the plant itself, but in certain aspects it really is impressive. And the root system - wow! :)
I have two small ones like this and ever would I have thought the root system was so intense. Wow, maybe that is why one of mine stays so small it needs a bigger pot. And a plant of the week is a super duper idea. I may steal it!
‘Chocolate Chips’ is a small low-growing plant, forming a rosette up to 4 inches tall and 2 feet wide. It forms a low, spreading rosette with long green leaves with chocolate spots and wavy-edged margins. Manfredas typically flower once annually but do not die after they bloom . USDA zone 8.
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