The Furcraea genus includes succulent shrubs sometimes used as ornamental pieces in gardens and as a source of natural fibers. The most popular among them is the Furcraea foetida: its long, sword-shaped, variegated leaves make it a distinctive and attractive ornamental piece. Furcraea foetida also blooms with flowers ranging from creamy white to green with a powerful and pleasant scent. Though different species of Furcraea vary in size, the F. foetida is a fairly manageable size for container cultivation. It remains only a few feet tall and a few feet wide. The F. foetida is also commonly referred to as Mauritius hemp or green aloe. Most Furcraea species, including the F. foetida, are of interest for the natural fique fibers they produce. Native to tropical regions like the Caribbean and northern South America, Furcraea grows in warm, wet environments.
- Light: Full sun is best, but F. foetida will do fine in light shade as well. These are good plants for a south-facing exposure or unobstructed east- or west-facing window.
- Water: Furcraea foetida are drought resistant due to their large root system: watering them infrequently (though more so during their bloom in summer and spring) will be fine. Be careful not to overwater. As with most succulents, standing water can be lethal.
- Soil: Well-draining succulent mix is crucial—too much water will kill these plants, and they should never be in water-logged soil or allowed to stand in a tray with water. The pH should be slightly acidic.
- Fertilizer: Furcraea will take either a controlled-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season or weekly fertilization with a weak liquid solution. Mature Furcraea needs a 20-20-20 fertilizer at 1/4 strength, while younger ones need one with less nitrogen.
Furcraea foetida propagates from bulbs that appear at the base of the mother plant. These small bulbs can be collected and replanted in fresh containers. Make sure, though, to keep them well-drained in their infancy and provide bright light.
F. foetida isn't a natural candidate for many indoor succulent collections (it's a little too big for that), but it can be an interesting and unusual specimen plant in the right conditions. Because these grow fairly large, make sure to use a big enough pot to support its root system—the Furcraea foetida’s roots can extend three to four feet outward. When repotting, make sure the soil is dry first, then remove the plant gently from its pot. Knock away old soil and any dead roots before repotting the plant and filling it with potting soil, making sure to keep its roots widely spread. After repotting, give the F. foetida about a week before watering again, to avoid rotting its roots.
Though F. foetida is the most popular, there are many plants within the Furcraea genus. Some, like the F. selloa, produce sisal fiber rather than the foetida’s fique. The F. macdougallii has regularly spaced, hooked teeth, while the F. foetida is much smoother. Growing conditions among the various types don't vary greatly—what will do for one species will likely do for the others also.
Growing F. foetida is as simple a matter as keeping its soil drained and making sure it receives an adequate amount of sunlight. These plants are drought-resistant and need to be watered only infrequently—in the wild, they often grow on rocks or cliffs—and they prefer full sun. If you’re growing them in pots rather than your garden, make sure the soil stays fairly dry and repot if necessary. These are vulnerable to mites, aphids, and mealybugs, so you should treat at the first sign of infestation.