Friday, September 6, 2019

An Agave's Legacy

Reactions to a blooming agave can be mixed.

My best guess is that I planted the 2 Agave desmettiana 'Variegata' shown here sometime in 2014 from 1-gallon containers.  The containers (and the plants) were bigger than those I usually buy.  This photo of them forming bloom stalks was taken in mid-October 2018.


On the one hand, agave bloom spikes are usually impressive, soaring many feet above the plant with the flowers drawing bees and even hummingbirds by the droves while they last.

My 2 plants were in full bloom in March


While the blooms are attractive, agaves are monocarpic, which means they signify the beginning of the end for the plant.  Although I have more agaves than I can count off the top of my head, I'd never had any bloom until these 2 Agave desmettiana 'Variegata' did so.  I usually purchase my plants in small containers; however, I inherited a large clump of mature Agave attenuata with the garden but even those plants have never produced blooms.  I've something on the order of a dozen Agave 'Blue Glow' scattered about, all purchased at about the same time in small pots, and I live in apprehension that one day they'll all bloom at once, leaving large holes throughout my garden.

I had no idea that the process from the emergence of a bloom spike to the plants' ultimate death would be quite so lengthy.  The stalks I first noticed in October grew steadily but didn't bloom until March of this year.  The blooms didn't last long, perhaps a few weeks between the 2 plants, but the bulbils or plantlets formed so slowly that, for a time, I didn't think they were going to develop at all.   It wasn't until June that I became confident that I was going to get a crop of baby agaves out of those flower stalks.

As August turned to September, the bloom stalks were visibly leaning toward the street and the bases of the 2 bloomed-out plants had shriveled.  Prompted by a post on an agave harvest published by Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden, I decided that I'd better cut those stalks before they came crashing down on a neighbor's car (or a construction worker's truck).  Of course, I chose what may be the hottest week we've had all summer to tackle the job.  Luckily for me, the bloom spikes of my agaves aren't as tall - or as heavy - as some.

This is what the plants looked like immediately before I went to work

As you can see, there was little left of the agave's foliage by this point

There were lots of bulbils, though!


After cutting down the stalks, I hauled my harvest into the shade and began sorting through the bulbils, pulling out those that were of decent size, well-formed, and showed some sign of variegation.

I tossed the vast majority of the bulbils, saving just 30 for myself (shown in the pot on the left) and putting aside another 100 or so to give away (shown in the pot on the right)


I stuck those I saved for myself in a flat of loose, gritty soil to allow them to develop roots.

Here's my stash.  I stuck the largest bulbil in a small plastic pot.

A few showed marked variegation like this one


I decided to offer the remainder of those I'd saved to neighbors.  Although succulents have become a lot more popular in our dry climate in recent years, I wondered if there would be sufficient interest in caring for these baby plantlets until they developed roots and could more easily survive on their own.

I found 3 empty plastic 6-packs and stuck bulbils in each pocket in the hope people might find them more appealing packaged this way.  I left the rest of the giveaway plantlets in the plastic pot I'd placed them in while sorting them out. 

I placed all the plants slated as giveaways on this low wall at the edge of our driveway, facing the street.  I've previously done the same thing with lemons and succulent cuttings with generally positive results.

I also left flyers with general information on the plants.  The 3 agaves shown in the photo on the flyer are actually pups of the same 2 bloomed-out agaves that produced the crop of bulbils.


Two of the six-packs of bulbils were picked up early Wednesday morning.  Then a truck containing sandblasting equipment arrived for work on our house, hiding my sign and the rest of the plants from view.  With our temperature headed into the mid-90sF, I moved the plants out of view into a shadier location.  I put the plants out again Wednesday evening and someone, or possibly multiple someones, picked up the rest of the giveaway plants before the heat climbed yesterday.  I'm counting that a success.  Agave desmettiana babies: may you live long and prosper.

Enjoy your weekend!


All material © 2012-2019 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

16 comments:

  1. You may start seeing those Agaves all over the neighborhood--that will be fun, knowing you spread some climate-appropriate plants around!

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    1. That would be fun, although it'd also be great if some of the bulbils were directed to schoolkids as part of a look at propagation. I don't know any teachers that are still teaching and I figured that SCBG has plenty of their own bulbils for use in kids club sessions if they chose to focus interest there.

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  2. Like HB said, it's going to be interesting to see if they pop up around your neighborhood. I'm glad they all went so fast.

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    1. Frankly, I was very surprised, especially when the last, larger batch disappeared.

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  3. Wish I lived near you! I would have given them a new home, for sure....

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    1. My fingers are crossed that they root easily and quickly, Libby, so the "adopting parents" don't get frustrated and give up on them.

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  4. Garden giveaways are such fun. Nature's abundance makes it so easy!

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    1. I probably threw away nearly 10 times what I saved, Eliza. If I'd believed there was real interest out there, I'd have saved more.

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  5. What a nice thing to do to plant them up for others. I'm sure you made their day and hopefully all your babies will thrive.

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  6. Lucky people that live around you. That was such a nice generous thing to do. I doubt if I set out plants that anyone would take any.

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    1. I had a hard time giving away the bulbs of Arthropdium cirratum (Renga Lily) I offered years ago but the succulent cuttings were relatively popular. On the other hand, lemons go even faster!

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  7. You are such a sweetheart! Those desmett's seem to bloom so fast. The bloom stalk on my Agave mitis dried so beautifully, I still have it around! Each of the agaves bloom in their own unique way, so fascinating. I finally pulled my Blue Glows before they bloomed since they were so enormous and crowding the path. I remember you were shocked at their size when you saw them, and they were much bigger when I pulled them. I probably won't plant any more BG's in the ground. You have lots of room for so many of those babies!

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    1. All the rain we got this past year seemed to drive a growth spurt among the agaves. However, I've only got one 'Blue Glow' that's reached a significant size (although not as big as I remember yours was!) so hopefully I'm safe there for a time. I've had one BG in a too-small pot for nearly a decade and it's stayed relatively small - and even produced a pup, which they seldom do.

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  8. Yay! I love this story, thanks for spreading the agave love Kris.

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    1. I hope the babies survive and earn the respect of their adoptive parents, Loree.

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