Agave (2006)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (May 2006)

Most agaves are from Mexico, but their native range includes parts of the southern and western United States, and dips into central and tropical South America. They are cultivated in warm areas around the world as sources of food, fiber, alcohol and medicine. Plant hybridizers also produce agaves for beauty and delight in Japan and Thailand. Last month, a gorgeous 4-inch Agave cv. “Ohi Raijin Ki Nakahu” sold on eBay for $510 (item #7760850984 – check it out!). Whether grown to produce tequila or to produce living sculptures, agaves can support a profitable business.

For us plants-as-art collectors, the main appeal of agaves is the markings that the edges of the leaves imprint on adjacent leaves. These prints can remain with a plant for life, testifying to the uniform symmetry of the plant’s growth and turning the plant into abstract art. Agave victoria-reginae is my favorite!

A flowering agave is a dramatic and impressive sight. The flower stalk rises rapidly from the center of the plant, extending many feet into the air in larger plants. Unfortunately for our collections, agaves are monocarpic: Each rosette dies after producing fruit.

It is not the act of flowering that kills the plants. Rather, hormone production changes radically, diverting plant energy into the production of fruit and seed. Sometimes we can save an agave by removing the flower stalk before pollination.

Most agaves are prolific, and propagation is usually by stem offsets and rhizomes. Some species produce pups on the flower stems. A few species do not offset and can only be propagated by seed. The best propagation results occur in spring and summer.

I hope to see your agaves at the May meeting!