Cacti and succulents, Perennials
Sculptural succulents with rosettes of fleshy leaves. Impressive, sometimes colorful, flower stalk emerges from the rosette’s center looking something like a giant asparagus; some kinds produce clusters of flowers on side branches, while others have flowers packed along the stalk. After flowering—which may not occur for years—the foliage clump dies, usually leaving behind suckers that make new plants.
These plants shrivel from serious drought but plump up again with watering or rainfall. Provide good drainage. Species listed here are native to Mexico, except as noted.Agave americana
Blue-green leaves grow to 6 ft. long, and have hooked spines along margins with a wicked spine at the tip. Be sure you really want one before planting it: its bulk (to 10 ft. wide) and spines make it formidable to remove. After 10 years or more, a branched, 15–40-ft. flower stalk bearing yellowish green flowers appears. There are varieties available with yellow- or white-striped leaves.Agave attenuata
Spineless, fleshy, somewhat translucent leaves are soft green or gray-green and up to 2 1/2 ft. long. Clumps grow to 6–8 ft. across, and older plants develop a stout trunk to 5 ft. tall. Arching spikes to 12 ft. long are densely set with greenish yellow flowers. This species makes a statuesque container plant and looks good near water. Variegated forms are sometimes available. ‘Nova’ (‘Boutin Blue’) has broader and bluer leaves than the species, with a straight rather than arching flower spike. Grows best in fairly rich soil with regular water. Protect from frost and—except for along the coast—provide shade from hottest sun.
Graceful and upright, this plant grows to 2–3 ft. tall and wide. Arching blue-green to yellow-green leaves are tipped with a dark brown terminal spine; few if any teeth. When young, the plant forms offsets that grow nearly as large as the original rosette by the time it blooms. Leaves of ‘Variegata’ are edged in bright yellow. Takes full sun or partial shade on the coast; sun or shade in low desert areas.Agave filifera
Hardy to 17°F (–8°C). Spreads fairly quickly to form a 2–3-ft.-wide clump of tight rosettes. Each narrow, dark green leaf is lined with white and edged with long white threads; the terminal spine is dark brown. Adapted to very hot, dry conditions.
Grows to 2–3 ft. high and wide, with narrow, dark green, pencil-thin leaves. Yellow flowers, touched with red, are held in pairs along a very tall spike. Tolerates considerable shade. Best in full sun along the coast; needs some shade in the desert.Agave havardiana
From southeastern New Mexico, western Texas, and adjacent areas of Mexico. Usually forms a single, compact, symmetrical rosette to 2 ft. tall and 2 1/2–3 ft. wide, though it may develop a few offsets with age. Leaves are blue-gray to dull green, very thick at the base, and up to 2 ft. long; the margins are toothed and the terminal spine is sharp and stout. Flower spike can reach 15 ft. tall, with greenish yellow blooms. Hardy to at least 0°F (–18°C). Good choice for dry, cold gardens.
Attractive, compact, cold-hardy species native to Arizona and northern Mexico. Thick, blue-green or gray-green leaves are tipped with sharp black spines. Mature size about 2–3 ft. high and wide; spreads by offsets to form colonies.
Sometimes called “artichoke agave” because the rosettes on some forms resemble giant artichokes. When about 20 years old, plants push up a stout stalk with clusters of yellow flowers. Thrives in part shade.
Grows to 1–2 ft. high and 2–3 ft. wide, usually as a solitary rosette. Its short, broad, toothed, blue-gray leaves flare outward, giving a ruffled appearance. Each leaf is tipped with a distinctive, often twisted, reddish spine. Best in full sun. Needs regular water in desert, little to moderate water along coast. Fine choice for a large container.Agave victoriae-reginae
Clumps grow slowly to only 12–18 in. across. The many dark green leaves are 6 in. long and 2 in. wide, stiff, thick, with narrow white lines and sharp black tips. Slow growing; will stand in a pot or the ground for 20 years before flowering.
Big, dramatic plant, to 5 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide, with wide, fleshy, gray-green leaves that are finely toothed. Plants may make a few offsets. A branched stalk produces yellow flowers.Agave ‘Blue Flame’
An elegant, clump-forming hybrid with rosettes of spine-tipped, blue-green leaves to 2 1/2 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Looks like parent A. attenuata but has upward-curving leaf tips that suggest flames, and is hardier (to 25°F/–4°C).
This compact, colorful cross between A. attenuata and A. ocahui grows to 1–2 ft. tall and 2–3 ft. wide. It forms a solitary rosette of blue-green leaves edged in red and yellow and tipped with a short red spine; leaves seem to glow when backlit. Hardy to at least 28°F (–2°C). In low desert, plants grow best with some shade.
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Small, shrubby, 9-ft. mound with finely cut leaves that hold deep red color all summer, turn scarlet b...