Botanical treasures in the orangery

During the winter season our orangery enchants with its Mediterranean flair. Exotic plants such as eugenia, pomegranates, banana trees, lemon and orange trees spend their winter quarters in the orangery at Schloss Hof Estate.


Blooming of the Foxtail Agave in January 2022

Two years after an American Agave flowered at Schloss Hof Estate, exactly 300 years after the first agave flower in a Prince Eugene’s garden, an agave flower is now blooming again in the large orangery glass house.

In mid-January 2022, the Foxtail or Swan’s Neck Agave, AGAVE attentuata Salm-Dyck, did open its first flowers, shortly after it had been donated to Schloss Hof Estate by the enthusiastic gardener couple Holler from Oberhausen, Lower Austria.

The Foxtail Agave is native to Mexico, where it is found on the Pacific side in several federal states on volcanic rock outcrops at elevations between 400 and 2500 meters above Sea Level in the dry pine forests of the Mexican Central Plateau, but only a few locations are left.

Two subspecies are recognized: Agave attenuata subsp. attenuata Salm-Dyck (as our specimen here) in the central and northwestern states and Agave attenuata subsp. dentata (J.Verschaff.) B.Ullrich in the northern and south-western states.

Agave attenuata was introduced in Europe at the end of the first third of the 19th century. The Belgian botanist Henri-Guillaume Galeotti (1814-1858) sent the first specimens to the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew in London in 1834 and to the private scholar and botanist Prince Joseph zu Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck (1773-1861), for whose botanical collection in his garden in Schloss Dyck in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The prince, a leading specialist in succulent plants and author of numerous botanical works, cultivated the plants in his greenhouse - not unlike our glass house - and described the species in 1834 in the list of plants growing in his botanical garden, the 'Hortus Dyckensis'.

The Foxtail Agave, becoming very popular as an ornamental plant since then, is now widespread throughout the Mediterranean and has become naturalized in Libya and the island of Madeira.

However, AGAVE attentuata is in several respects an unusual representative of the genus Agave L., a genus comprising more than 200 species ranging from the southern United States to northern South America, with a focus in Central America, belonging to the subfamily Agavoideae HERB. in the family Asparagaceae JUSS., the asparagus family.

Unlike most agaves, it not only forms a ground rosette of leaves but a woody trunk up to 1.5 meters high, to which it owes its German name Dragon Tree Agave. On its trunk she carries a leaf rosette of up to 70cm long and 15cm broad leaves. In contrast to most agaves, these broadly lanceolate to ovoid fleshy leaves are relatively soft and, above all, not spiny.

Like all agaves, each shoot blooms only once at the end of its life, but develops numerous axillary buds, as can be seen in our specimen.

The most striking thing, however, is its – as in any other agaves - terminal inflorescence. This inflorescence, which can grow up to 3.5 meters long, is - unlike most agaves - conspicuously curved, thus it is also named 'Swan's Neck -' 'Foxtail' or 'Lion's Tail Agave'. The plant takes about a decade to form the inflorescence. Over a period of several months, it then develops hundreds of up to 5cm long, nectar-rich, greenish-yellow, hermaphrodite, protandrous flowers, which only bloom for a few days and are most likely pollinated by large hawkmoths in their natural habitat. The pollinated flowers then develop into capsule fruits, which release numerous seeds to start the cycle of life of the Foxtail Agave once again.