May 1, 2012
A desert maypole! The Ace of Wands! One of the agaves in our front yard is “spiking” and sending up a flower stalk. This one is Agave chrysantha, the Golden Flowered Agave, native to central Arizona and just reaching the southern limit of its range here. Mine is from a local nursery and I planted it in spring 2001 when it was about six inches tall, so the plant is probably 15-18 years old. Here’s an animated series of photos from the past ten days:
Once the stalk rises to its full height, it will put out small lateral branches. When the candelabra is in full bloom, it will attract the nectar-feeding bats that pollinate the flowers. A. chrysantha is named for its spectacular gold or orange flowers. Many agave species have yellow flowers but none as brilliant as this. Here’s a fallen flower stalk photographed just after a desert wildfire several years ago.
A. chrysantha is closely related to (and may have evolved from) Agave palmeri, the common southern Arizona agave, which has pale pink and yellow flowers. Like most agaves, the plant will die once the flowers bloom. Several years ago, my plant grew a single tiny offset (a new leaf rosette, also called a “clone” or “pup”), which I transplanted to another part of the yard. That clone is now a foot tall with a swarm of a dozen offsets of various sizes. Eventually I’ll move one of them to the site of the original plant and the cycle will continue. Some agave species produce hundreds of offsets, and others never grow any. In A. chrysantha they are uncommon and plants usually produce only two or three.
The agave isn’t the only spike in the yard. Two of my wild soaptree yuccas (Yucca elata) will bloom, and one beargrass (Nolina microcarpa) with two flowerstalks. Both are closely related to agaves but the plants do not die after flowering, and bloom every few years. Big black carpenter bees, which lay eggs in the dead woody stalks, are already eyeballing the new real estate. They fly near the stalks and seem to hang in the air as if studying them. They’ll also be around to help pollinate the beargrass flowers in another week or so.