Have you ever wondered why your, for example, Sempervivum plant after flowering has died? It is not because there was something in the cultivation that failed, no, none of that. What has happened is that your plant is monocarpic . This word that may seem complex has a simple meaning.
It is an evolutionary phenomenon of some plants, very striking for humans but important for the survival of the species. Let’s see what it consists of and what are monocarpic plants. whereby once a few years have passed after the germination of the seed, the plant spends all its energy in flowering and producing seeds . Once the flowering is coming to an end, little by little the leaves die, and later the trunk or stem if it had.
What is monocarpism?
Monocarpism is an evolutionary strategy that many plants have been developing, most of them originating in very hot regions or, on the contrary, very cold, and arid or semi-arid. These plants live for several years until they bloom , but when they finally do, they usually produce a flower stalk that doubles or sometimes triples in total height, from which numerous flowers sprout.
For that the plant spends a lot, a lot of energy, but this energy has been accumulating since it germinated when it was a seed. So far so good, but after flowering, they produce fruit with seeds, and this is what causes them to die.
Types of monocarpic plants
There are many plants that only flower once in their life, and then they die. It is interesting to know them because, thus, if we decide to cultivate them, we will know that we will not have to worry when the time comes.
Aecmea (Aechmea, all species)
The aecmea are monocarpic bromeliads, who live a few years and then flourish. But since they produce numerous suckers, it is not a problem, since these suckers grow quickly. The most cultivated species is the Aechmea fasciata , which is native to Brazil. They have wide and long leaves, about 10 x 60 centimeters .
The inflorescence has a pyramidal shape, and is composed of many triangular and pink flowers. This remains open for about six months; later, it withers. But in addition, it produces seeds, which can be sown at the moment or in spring.
They must be kept in the shade , unless you want to grow it indoors, in which case we will place it in a room with light. It does not support frost.
The Guzmania wittmackii is a kind of natural bromeliad of Colombia and Ecuador. Epiphytic in habit, it develops leaves up to 80 centimeters long by 3 centimeters wide , forming a rosette that arises from a short stem. When it blooms, it does so by producing a flower spike up to 100 centimeters tall, with many white flowers that remain open for four months.
In cultivation it must be kept in the shade , or indoors with a lot of light. It requires high humidity and protection against frost.
Fishtail Palm ( Caryota urens )
The fishtail palm is a very interesting plant. Other palm trees have bipinnate leaves, but this one also has wedge-shaped leaflets, which gives them a really curious appearance. It can be between 15 and 20 meters tall, and develops a straight and rather thin trunk about 30 centimeters thick.
It is native to India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, and produces stinging fruits , with a globular shape that end up being black when ripe. Its growth rate is slow, but it can live for several decades before flowering.
The only thing, you need the weather to be warm and humid. Young specimens need shade, but adults can be in semi-shade. Resists up to -2ºC .
The Tahina spectabilis is another monocarpic palm. It is native to Madagascar, can be about 10 meters high , and develops fan-shaped leaves that measure 5 meters in diameter. When it blooms, it produces a candelabra-like inflorescence that is 4.5 meters high.
As a curious fact, say that it was discovered in 2007 . And sadly, it is in danger of extinction. Since 2008 it has been cultivated, first in Kew , and later also in the hands of some lucky botanical gardens, such as the Palmetum in Santa Cruz de Tenerife .
It is very sensitive to cold. It should only be grown in tropical and subtropical climates.
Ensete (all species)
Plants of the Ensete genus are similar to banana trees (Musa sp), but they do not have rhizomatous roots and they only flower once in their life, that is, they can be multiplied only by seeds which they produce after several years of growth. They are native to Africa and tropical Asia, and can be about 7 meters tall . The leaves are very large, up to 5 meters long by 1 meter wide, and they grow very fast.
The fruits can be eaten, but are said to have almost no flavor. What is highly appreciated in some regions is the root. This can weigh up to 40kg, so it serves as food for many families. In cultivation they are very water demanding plants . I have an Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’ in the soil and I’m sure I could water it every day and it wouldn’t have fungal problems or anything. Now, I water it twice a week in the summer and it’s still very pretty.
They resist specific, short frosts of up to -2ºC . The wind spoils its leaves.
What are monocarpic succulents?
If you are a collector of succulent plants or want to know if you have any that are monocarpic, then we will tell you which are the ones that bloom and die:
The Agave americana or yellow agave is a plant that is distributed mainly in the arid areas of the American continent. It has succulent leaves up to 2 meters long by 25 centimeters wide , normally green in color but can be variegated (green with a yellow margin).
It blooms once in its life producing a huge flower stalk up to 10 meters tall with countless yellow flowers. In Spain it is considered an invasive species.
Furcraea (all species)
The fique, as they are called in popular language, are native plants of tropical America, typical of dry regions. They develop a straight stem from which leaves similar to those of agaves sprout : triangular, with a sharp tip, and green or grayish-green in color. The flowers emerge from a panicle-shaped inflow.
They are ideal for growing in sunny, low-maintenance gardens, as they resist drought well. In addition, they support mild frosts , even the Furcraea foetida ‘Mediopicta’ species holds up to -4ºC.
Sempervivum (all species)
The Sempervivum are plants used for soil cover or planted in pots and / or planters. Originating from Morocco to Iran, passing through the Balkans, Turkey and the Alps. They are very resistant to cold, so much so that they can withstand very intense frosts . However, they don’t like the heat too much; That is why in very hot climates where the sun is very intense it is highly recommended to have them in semi-shade.
They have a great tendency to take out basal suckers, which can be separated and planted in individual pots.
The Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is a shrubby succulent plant native to South Africa and Lesotho. It reaches 50 centimeters in height , and develops succulent, rounded leaves, green with a reddish margin (especially if it is in the sun all day).
The inflorescence is a panicle with greenish flowers, and reaches a meter high. Resists light frosts and drought.
What do you think of these plants?