Surprise Agave Spike

March 14, 2009

One of the agaves in our yard has begun to send up a flowerstalk.  I had expected this plant to grow much larger and live for several more years, but the high elevation and relatively harsh environment may have triggered an early bloom.  This is Agave colorata, native to the Pacific coast of Mexico but widely planted as an ornamental in Tucson.  Clusters of four-foot plants are commonly seen in gardens.  It doesn’t grow as large as the immense gray Agave americana, but it’s still an imposing plant.  The lovely banded blue-green leaves have prominent teeth and a long dark spike at the tip.  Wild plants are reported to flower after 15 years, but cultivated plants are more variable, and the age at which they bloom depends on elevation, local microclimate, and whether or not they receive supplemental irrigation.  I have ten agave species in my yard and water some of the plants occasionally, but not this species, since it rots too easily.

Agave colorata

Agave colorata

Here’s the spiking plant in my yard with boulders and native southern Arizona oaks (Quercus oblongifolia, Mexican Blue Oak, and Quercus hypoleucoides, Silverleaf Oak).  Note the cluster of small agaves at center left, behind the large plant.  That’s another A. colorata that I put in at the same time, in 2002.  Both plants were nearly identical and about six inches tall, but one of them grew larger and had a few offsets (young rosettes), and the other stayed small and produces dozens of short-lived offsets each year.

Like all agaves, this one will die shortly after it flowers, but the offsets will survive and continue to grow.  Meanwhile, it will be fun to watch the beautiful spike develop and flower – the ultimate Ace of Wands!

Agaves are native to Mexico, central America, and the southwestern U.S.  They are NOT cacti.  They are closely related to the lily family and to similar large desert succulents such as yucca, nolina, and sotol.   The best guidebook to this large and complex genus is the classic Agaves of Continental North America by Howard Scott Gentry (1982, University of Arizona Press, 670 pages).  It has descriptions, photos, drawings, and range maps for all species, as well as taxonomic keys and plenty of background information on genetics, ecology, economic uses, ethnobotany, and many other interesting details.  Unlike many field guides and botanical manuals, it’s a very readable book.  It was written with a genuine love of the plants and an appreciation for the land in which they grow.

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One Response to “Surprise Agave Spike”

  1. Gary said

    I live in Texas and have about 8-10 different types of agave. If your are interested in trading pups please send me an email

    Gary

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