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Wild rice, hog’s bristles & molluscs

Tim Entwisle

Tim Entwisle

August 29, 2012

Sometimes my topic is just an unusual or odd plant. Something I’ve walked past in Kew Gardens, or maybe read about in a book or on the web. Nothing fancy, nothing new to report, but something worth taking a second look at.

I’ve been watching this flower spike for the last few weeks. It’s an agave again. This time in the middle of the traffic island at the north end of Kew Gardens’ Broad Walk, and close to the Orangery. It’s part of a succulent garden designed by Eli Biondi.


This year the garden is breaking out into bloom almost daily. I’ll include a few additional cacti pictures at the end of this blog but it seems to be a great year for them after we lost quite a few in the wet, rotting weather of June and July.



The good thing about taking photographs is that you look at the flowers more closely than you might just walking by. The colour is the first thing you notice: deep claret or port.

When the unopened stamens, the same rich colour, look like wild rice on sticks. Focus a bit further back and the white bristles between the flowers stand out (they are not the stigmas).

What ever it is that induces the plant to produce the threads on its leaves that give it the species name ‘filifera‘do the same on the flowering stalk it seems.

Although these are straighter and stiffer.

If you are lucky you might see what pollinates the flowers. Or more correctly, what visits them and you can induce pollinates them. Early this morning it was bees, and plenty of them.



There is no perfume that I can smell – neither sweet for insects nor musky for bats. Quite a few agaves are pollinated by bats, and the colour of the flowers is what you’d expect to attract that kind of visitor. Perhaps it’s a mix of bees, bats and other things starting with ‘b’, or not.

Agave filifera comes from southern Mexico, in the States of Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi and Veracruz. I’ve never visited Mexico; the closest I’ve got is through the Border Trilogy of Cormac McCarthy, of which I’m reading the final instalment now. But that’s up north and a somewhat bleak yet engaging view of the country.

Of more relevance to me here at Kew, perhaps, is the reputed molluscicidal properties of Agave filifera. This could have real applications during the current slug plague in London. Although the Olympics seem to have brought a little sunshine to the city, the predominantly wet and soggy summer has been very appealing to molluscs such as this one.
But to finish, a few of those cacti flowers I promised. These two species are also growing in the pedestrian traffic island.


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Julie Thomson
11 years ago

Those cacti flowers are delicious. Such a hostile spikey thing giving off such pretty delicate blooms is one of the tricks nature plays on us. How I love its quirky sense of surprise.

Tim Entwisle
11 years ago
Reply to  Julie Thomson

Agree! Such elegant and colourful flowers. They seem to make up for their austerity in vegetative growth through extravagance in flower.