Manfreda virginica (L.) Salisb. ex Rose

False Aloe


CC = 7
CW = 5
MOC = 30

© SRTurner

Family - Agavaceae

Habit - Perennial forb with a somewhat woody caudex.

Stem - Vegetative stems reduced to a perennial caudex.

Leaves - In basal rosette, 5-40 cm long, green or with reddish purple markings, somewhat fleshy and leathery, lanceolate to oblanceolate, parallel-veined, with spiny margins.

Manfreda_virginica_basals2.jpg Basal rosette.

© SRTurner

Manfreda_virginica_leaf.jpg Leaves.

© SRTurner

Inflorescence - Tall racemes or spikes 1 to 2.5 m long. Leafy bracts present, these reduced in size upward.

Manfreda_virginica_scape.jpg Scape.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Actinomorphic, perfect, tubular. Tepals 2-3 cm long, petaloid, in 2 whorls of 3, sometimes fused below, greenish yellow, the lobes brick red to brown, fused over half their length. Stamens 6, exserted, the anthers linear. Carpels 3, fused, the ovary inferior, the style elongate, the stigma 3-lobed.

Manfreda_virginica_flower2.jpg Flower and anthers.

© SRTurner

Manfreda_virginica_flower1.jpg Flower and stigma.

© SRTurner

Manfreda_virginica_anthers.jpg Anthers.

© SRTurner

Manfreda_virginica_style.jpg Style and stigma.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Globose capsules 1.0-1.5 cm long, with 3 or 6 locules. Seeds numerous, flattened, usually black.

Manfreda_virginica_fruit1.jpg Immature fruit.

© SRTurner

Manfreda_virginica_fruits2.jpg Dehiscent fruits.

© SRTurner

Flowering - June - August.

Habitat - Glades, open woodlands, usually in thin soils.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - None.

Other info. - This striking and unusual plant is common in the southeastern half of the state, rare or absent in the northwestern half. It North American distribution is restricted to the southeastern quadrant of the continental U.S.

When flowering, the plant is impossible to mistake for anything else in the state. The succulent basal rosettes are also quite distinctive. The appearance of the flowers is variable, as the anthers and the stigma within each flower typically appear at different times. The flowers are fragrant with a scent variously described as sweet and fruity or similar to that of cloves. Manfreda virginica is an interesting plant worthy of more extensive cultivation.

A scientific synonym is Agave virginica L. The common name most frequently used for this species is "false aloe" or "American aloe," but the name "rattlesnake master" has also been used. This is unfortunate, as the same name also refers to Eryngium yuccifolium, an unrelated plant. "Rattlesnake master" applies to an old belief in the plants' utility for treatment of rattlesnake bites.

Photographs taken at Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 7-25-2008 and 7-20-2010, and Washington State Park, Washington County, MO, 7-14-2017 and 10-16-2017 (SRTurner).