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Agave macroacantha, blue (2020)

Text and Photos By Jerry Dultz (September 2020)

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The narrow, succulent leaves of Agave macrocanthus end in sharp, black spines at the tips.

My husband, Gene, and I were recipients of the August meeting attendance prize plant – Agave macroacanthus, blue. It is now transplanted on our front porch, and I am thrilled to have it. Thank you to Don Lesmeister for taking such good care of it. We were impressed by his collection of plants.

My history with the family Asparagaceae isn’t the best. It begins with yuccas. Over 25 years ago, yuccas were taking over what I called my prickly pear garden. I was yearly cutting back those yuccas. The smelly white roots were laboriously removed with a small hand axe and shovel, trying and failing not to be wearing those opuntia thorns and filaments.

I liked the idea of yuccas enough that I transferred some along with the opuntias to our next home in a bit larger cactus garden. Eventually I realized my mistake. With the help of the landscaper and his bobcat, the last vestiges of yucca plant and smelly white roots were gone … mostly. For the next few years, they still peeked up.

So the yuccas were out of my prickly pear garden. It was years before I would learn that there were more winter-hardy plants that grew in Missouri. Lowe’s started carrying cacti and succulents. Some said “winter hardy,” but they died in winter.

I now had quite a collection of cacti and succulents. I brought everything in the house in winter, except, of course, the opuntias. Lowe’s Home and Garden department was my favorite place for many years. What turned out to be euphorbias were favorites, along with pachypodiums and agaves. Eventually I found out agaves were in the same family as the hated yucca. Despite that, I still like them and have many in my collection.

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Agave americana ‘Marginata’ is also known as the variegated century plant.

Then I learned about Henry Shaw Cactus and Succulent Society’s show and sale at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Very quickly, I looked forward to it like a kid at Christmas, but even moreso. I was being with like-minded people and lots of plants I’d never seen before. I went for many years before becoming a member of HSCSS, partially because I don’t drive that far from home. My husband agreed to take me to meetings, and we both became members.

I was always impressed with “century plants,” not knowing they were large agaves. The winter-hardy agaves that we plant in the cactus garden in summer are getting closer to the look of century plants, although at most they are now only 25 inches tall. Still, they are impressive and will only get bigger in the years ahead.