PLANT OF THE WEEK #3: Beschorneria septentrionalis

What a great plant. Despite being stuck with a tongue-twister of a Latin name – Beschorneria septentrionalis is year-round one of the neatest, most reliable foliage plants in my garden.

Its mid-green rosettes of soft strappy leaves have all the upsides of other accent plants without the spiky leaf ends of yucca and minus the messy brown spent leaves of some agaves. It lends gravity and a ‘full stop’ to floatier planting and can also bulk-up over time in spots where you might use arthropodium, but without getting shredded by snails. 

It will hack it out with glossy goodness in dry shade and only seems to scorch or look a bit shabby in really hot exposed spots. I would honestly grow it for its foliage contribution alone.

But in early spring, this strait-laced plant has a flamboyant side that reveals itself with the most incredible exertion of energy. If spring is a disco, then Beschorneria septentrionalis goes from business suit to hotpants – pushing up an asparagus-spear-like flower spike that gradually elongates to over a metre and flushes a deep lipstick pink with bell-shaped flowers. Well hello!

The timing of this outrageous flowering stem brings vibrancy to all the fresh burgundy foliage in my spring garden like berberis and cotinus and complements an early flush of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. I just love the bold colour it brings and even more the anticipation as it very first emerges – this is one of those plants I have to check on daily when it’s in flowering phase. It happens to bloom at the same time as the equally pink Veldt Lily (Veltheimia bracteata) which could make for a fun combo.

The flowering stem eventually fades to green and can look a bit lack-lustre. Laziness means I tend to leave the spike on to ‘enjoy the verticality’, even when it’s past its prime. 

My only disappointment is that after four years and with multiple plants, I’m yet to see the same plant flower again. They just take turns. I’m unsure if the next year of flowering will come from a new rosette pup from the side, or whether my clumps just need to mature more. In public planting they definitely seem to get repeat mass flowering.

It can also be a little tricky to source – but gradually it’s becoming more available. Also worth a look is its big brother Beschorneria yuccoides which takes triffid-like flowering to a whole other level…


Kate Catterall is a Melbourne-based gardener, landscape designer, writer and volunteer with Open Gardens Victoria. You can find her pondering plants on Instagram @gardeneuphoria

Discussion

  1. Kate, I have it planted in public spaces, B. yuccoides, (the only species you can get in Argentina) and after it flowers, slowly but surely the central plant dies and new ones come out at the sides…. like an Agave…… so after a couple of years you have to pick them up and divide them

    1. Ah that’s good to know Trixie. Great to hear it’s being used in landscapes all over the globe.

  2. Do you consider this to simply be a smaller version of B. yuccoides in terms of usage, Kate? Or do you see them as having different qualities/uses?

    1. Yeah it’s an interesting question – while they’re both clumping plants, I find the scale of B. yuccoides to be so much different – they really dominate a space, so I feel they either need to be placed against something ‘muscly’ enough to play off or to be left more as a feature plant as you might a large agave or flax. B. septentrionalis integrates much better with its smaller dimensions and I feel it looks a bit lost and gangly when it’s not snuggled up to other plants. Plus its solid green foliage just lends that lovely grounding element to a planting scheme.

  3. Well, you really got me thinking about this plant, Kate. I’ve always treated it with disdain; merely an inferior version of B. yuccoides. But upon reflection, I realise that it wasn’t B. septentrionalis itself I didn’t like, but how it was used, and how it was husbanded. Seeing a big, healthy example of it in a client’s garden recently really opened my eyes, after you had sown the seed. I intend to shoehorn it into my next design, no matter what. Thanks, Kate!

    1. Haha – job done! Glad to have proffered a new angle. Great news for your next garden design – but surely that lipstick pink flower spike would also look sensational against your equally vibrant weatherboards? Or would frost be an issue in your neck of the woods? I’m curious to know how frost hardy it is for future applications in the hills…

    2. I’ve never had any frost issues with either species, Kate

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