Are you looking for a nice and low-maintenance succulent plant that can make an exotic addition to your indoor plant collection, your rock garden, or to an eclectic interior design? You cannot go wrong with Manfreda Undulata a.k.a. the Chocolate Chip Plant. This plant has mesmerizing and unique foliage which makes it a focal point in any plant collection, big or small.
Manfreda belongs to a group with at least 30 species of succulent herbs of the Asparagaceae family. Their placement in the classification structures of botanists is ever-changing. Most recently, some taxonomists have moved these plants to the genus Agave, but still, others keep them separate. Together with Polianthes, they are commonly called tuberoses.
Manfreda undulata, commonly named Chocolate Chip Plant or False Agave, is native to the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Central America. The generic name honors 14th-century Italian botanist and medical writer Manfredus de Monte Imperiale.
About the Chocolate Chip Plant
- Manfreda plants grow in dry or desert-like places and they produce rosettes of fleshy leaves branching from a very short stem, almost like a bulb. In frost-free climates, Manfredas are evergreen, but in colder regions, the leaves are herbaceous and fall during winter.
- Manfredas are now grouped under the Agave genus, but they have some unique features.
- Unlike Agave, Manfredas can bloom frequently and are polycarpic.
- They have more flexible, less spiny leaves and are better suitable for garden borders.
- Manfreda undulata plants can tolerate a bit more shade and humidity than most Agave, especially when establishing roots. Partial to full sun is ideal, and more sun exposure will bring out the plant’s red and purple pigments.
- These beautiful plants prefer arid, droughty locations with low-nutrient soil, and plenty of sunlight. They are easy to grow and thrive even on a lack of care.
- Succulent lovers will love Manfreda plants. They have an attractive shape and distinctive foliage. This makes any Manfreda a great houseplant or outdoor plant in hot, dry areas. Some of them even have quite stunning flowers.
- Some growers refer to these plants as false agave due to their rosette form and thick, succulent, and gently serrated leaves, which do, in fact, resemble agave plants.
- Manfreda undulata plants hybridize easily and the flat black seeds produced after flowering germinate readily.
Some excellent hybrids that you can easily find on the market are:
- Mint Chocolate Chip – An unique-looking succulent with incredibly wavy leaves and intense spotting. Its long, blue-green leaves are succulent, but not as rigid as the leaves of Agave. Near-black spotting is present on both on the fronts and backsides of the leaves and contrasts beautifully with the lighter colored leaves. The serrated edges of the leaves have a fine white margin. Compared to the Chocolate Chip plant, this Manfreda has more silvery blue, wider leaves, and darker spotting.
- Cherry Chocolate Chip – This type of Manfreda has long green leaves with chocolate-colored spots and wavy margins. Narrow, creamy white edges have cherry-red spots. This variegate of ‘Chocolate Chip’ takes everything you loved about the original, but gives you more with its cherry-red coloring.
Manfreda Undulata Features: An Overview
- Manfreda undulata is an incredible plant with fun colors and an odd growth habit. This wide rosette plant has rubbery leaves of mint green spotted with dark, chocolatey spots. The foliage has wavy margins and a tendency to grow long, but low to the ground.
- Mature plants can reach 1,2 m (4 feet) wide but stay under 0,3 m (12 inches) tall.
- The roots of Manfreda plants are swollen and succulent about 5-8 (or more) mm (0,2-0,3 inch) wide.
- The stems of Manfreda plants are very short, invisible, growing underground, tuber-like, and have a conical shape.
- The rosette is winter deciduous, less than 10 cm (4 inches) tall and by 30-60 (or more) cm (12-24 inch) wide, stretching flat on the ground or (if potted) curved, following the shape of the pot and looking like a starfish.
- The leaves are 15-50 cm (6-20 inch) or longer and only 2,5 cm (1 inch) wide, rubbery, lizard-like, very wavy, dark green, and heavily spotted purple to chocolate.
- The leaves of Manfreda succulents aren’t as rigid as the leaves of Agave plants, so they arch gracefully. The plant often loses its leaves in winter but will regrow them in spring.
- Their flower buds are green-aquamarine, their perianth tube is 8 mm (0,3 inch) long, their greenish segments are about 16 mm (6,3 inch) long, and their filaments are very long, burgundy brown with yellow stamens giving a spidery appearance to the plant.
- Flower stalks appear in late Spring and bloom in June. The blossoms are tubular and whitish, yellow, green, or brown, with lengthy stamens.
- Unlike true agaves, where flowering is a rare and lethal event for the rosette of leaves, Manfreda flower more or less annually and the rosettes don’t die. Some types of Manfreda have delicately fragrant blooms.
Growing Chocolate Chip Plants
Manfreda undulata is a tender perennial succulent plant that thrives in full sun. To ensure that your Manfreda will thrive, plant in well-drained, dry to average soil, in a container with drainage holes that is just slightly wider than the width of the rosette. You can also plant your Manfredas directly in the ground.
In summer, when the plants are actively growing, they appreciate a bit of extra watering and half-strength fertilizer. They should be kept dry in winter. Manfreda is a slower grower, so it will not overtake the space it is allocated in the landscape very quickly.
This variety will tolerate a light frost down to about -15ºC (5ºF) if kept dry through winter. It can also overwinter indoors on a sunny windowsill or under a grow light but should be moved back outdoors during the growing season.
Unlike many more-sensitive succulents, Manfredas love the sun and they don’t need much protection from it during the hot summer months. These plants thrive when they grow in an area with plenty of natural light. Low or artificial lighting will cause fading of vivid colors and distinctive spotting. Manfreda leaves will regain their spots if moved to an area with more light.
We think that succulents are drought tolerant, but actually, they are water sensitive. Give them too much water and they rot away, but with too little, they don’t grow.
If you don’t live in a region where Manfreda will naturally overwinter, you will need to bring it inside as they need to be kept at temperatures of 15° C (60° F) or warmer. You should also place them in places where they will get as much natural light as possible. If your Manfreda plants are positioned away from a good light source they will begin to stretch and their leaves will lose their substance.
Manfredas are not very likely to be bothered by aphids and other insects which cause a lot of trouble in many gardens as they chew holes in the leaves of annuals, perennials, and shrubs. If you happen to notice aphids, you can easily get rid of them by using a water spray. Thrips can be removed with neem oil and whiteflies with insecticidal soap.
Wattering the Manfreda Undulata
Well-drained soil, such as a succulent and cacti soil mix, works best for these drought-tolerant plants. Manfredas can tolerate poor soils and they are great for indoor containers but you can also grow them in your outdoor garden. When planted outdoors, these versatile plants will resume their growth in spring as long as winter rains don’t lead to root rot.
As mentioned above, like all succulents, Manfredas need well-draining soil because if these plants are allowed to sit in water for too long their roots may begin to rot. Manfredas grown in containers should be planted with a succulent or bark soil mix. Sandy or rocky soils are among the best if you are growing your Manfreda directly into the ground. If you are worried your soil is too heavy or has too much water, you can try amending the area around your Manfreda with a succulent or bark soil mix.
It’s recommended to use a fertilizer designated for succulent use and to follow the instructions on the package. Avoid overfertilizing; extra nutrition is not beneficial to Manfredas as they are adapted to arid environments.
Propagating the Manfreda Undulata
Chocolate Chip plants are propagated by offsets and from fresh seeds. Fresh seeds germinate in 7- 21 days at 19 to 22ºC (68 to 72ºF).
In botany, an offset is a small, daughter plant that has been naturally and asexually produced on the mother plant. Offsets are small stems that develop into a new plant when detached from the parent plant and moved to a separate container.
Manfreda undulate produces offsets very slowly, so most of the plants on the market are propagated through other methods. If you’re lucky enough to have Manfreda offsets, make sure you plant them in a succulent potting mix enriched with leaf-mold and turf and be sure to give them good drainage.
Manfreda undulata a.k.a. Chocolate Chip or False Agave is an interesting looking succulent plant. Manfredas are closely related to agaves and like agaves, they form rosettes and their flowers appear at the end of a long stalk. Interestingly enough, Manfredas are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the winter) and polycarpic (they don’t die after flowering).
Manfreda undulate plants are among the best Manfreda cultivars as they have beautifully spotted leaves with pronounced wavy leaf margins. The remarkable foliage is the real reason for growing ‘Chocolate Chips’ Manfreda, which is a small, low-growing plant. So, if you were looking for a plant that will look great when planted in a small container, a Manfreda undulate is a perfect choice.
Are you growing Manfreda undulate plants? Share your experience with us in the comments!