The Transplanted Gardener – May 2014

Agave werberi commonly known as century plant

Agave werberi commonly known as century plant

Zann Wilson

Residents of SaddleBrooke Ranch, if you have noticed the strange asparagus stalk coming from the center of the large blue-gray agave botanically named Agave weberi near the north wall of the main entrance, you are witness to the near birth of a rare century plant bloom. The bloom stalk could be as much as 20 feet tall before it opens to reveal yellow flowers. Unfortunately, once the plant produces a flower, it will die. Many agaves put all of their energies into reproduction and simply can’t live to produce a second flower.

Agaves are New World plants. The Agave weberi is thought to be native to northeast Mexico and southern Texas, though due to historic trade and transportation around the world and back, the actual native location is difficult to determine. The weberi is blue gray in color with mostly smooth leaf margins, having a long black dagger-like terminal spine. It can grow from six to eight feet in height and similarly round. The leaf blades are four inches in width and can be several feet long. A. weberi is one of the hardier agaves in cultivation. It can usually endure temperatures dropping to 10 degrees F for short periods of time. It typically throws offsets, commonly called pups. These are cloned offspring which grow from rhizomes beneath the soil surrounding the parent plant.

When any agave bears offsets, they can be removed to relocate by pulling away groundcover and cutting the attached umbilical cord like rhizome with a sharp shovel or trowel. I often use an old steak knife to make this cut. Try to make the cut as cleanly as possible to reduce disturbance to the resulting new plant. Taking as many roots as you can, simply pot up the new pup or place it in another spot in the garden at the same depth it was originally growing. Water sparingly and watch as your new agave takes root and grows.

Another agave worth growing in our SaddleBrooke and SaddleBrooke Ranch gardens is A. parryi, variation truncata, the artichoke agave. This particularly offsetting agave makes large family groups. It is blue-gray in color, about two to three feet in diameter and one to two feet tall. Its rounded form is ideal as a foil for large columnar cacti in the landscape design. Needing very little supplemental water once established, the parryi’s agave is an excellent choice for our gardens.

The Queen of Agaves, A. victoriae-reginae, is a regal plant featuring white bud prints on its compact leaves. Named in honor of Queen Victoria, it will reach as much as one and a half feet tall and two feet round at maturity. A. victoriae-reginae is not known for offsetting. This slow growing species is quite winter hardy to temps in the low teens. Once established it seldom needs irrigation except in the extreme heat of high summer.

Consult your professional landscaper for advice on a suitable agave for your garden and, who knows, you may be witness to your own special century flower.