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Hemiphylacus hintoniorum

By Adam Black
Here’s an obscure one that we finally have identified. The silvery-blue clumps of erect rubbery leaves could be interpreted as belonging to an agave or yucca, but the identity of this plant has continued to intrigue me. John has a planting in the north dry garden by the blue wall as well as another colony in the south dry garden just above the fountain pool. The tag indicated he had collected it in Mexico on the “road to Camarones,” so I had been light-heartedly referring to it as the “shrimp road lily.” I had assumed it must be some strange member of the Agavaceae family, bearing a combination of features otherwise found in Beschorneria, Manfreda and Polianthes. It flowered last year, with a 3-foot tall branched inflorescence lined with dangling tubular white flowers with a violet blush, but these only created more of a mystery rather than shed light on this plant’s identity.
Hemiphylacus hintoniorumflowers.
Hemiphylacus hintonioruminflorescences
The plants are currently flowering again, this time even more vigorously, and I decided to post some photos on Facebook to see if anyone else had any ideas. Various suggestions we had already exhausted flowed in, but then Aaron Floden, a botanical taxonomist at Missouri Botanical Garden, confidently chimed in with “Hemiphylacus.” Since I had never heard of this genus, I looked it up and sure enough found a few photos in habitat of a plant that resembled ours spot-on, named Hemiphylacus hintoniorum.
Researching further, the current genetic studies show the genusHemiphylacus is a direct relative of Asparagus – yes, the edible vegetable. The two genera are the only ones recognized in Asparagaceae subfamily Asparagoideae. Though they look completely different, one similarity they both share are thick, fleshy nodular roots, as anyone who has grown “asparagus fern” (Asparagus aethiopicus) likely knows. Hemiphylacus dies back to this mass of roots in winter, but erupts out of the ground in spring with a refreshed rosette of clean silvery blue.
Last year we had a variegated offset appear from the clump by the blue wall that looked quite consistent and stable, but this year it returned from dormancy with only a few streaks, dashing our hopes of already having a cultivar of this plant that is currently rather unknown in cultivation. We produce a limited amount of offsets each year and hope to first back our plants up with other botanical gardens, but perhaps we will be successful in producing seeds with this current flowering and can offer offspring in the near future
Hemiphylacus hintoniorum