Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Plant Profile: Agave attenuata

Latin name: Agave attenuata  ("ah-GAV-ay ah-ten-you-AH-tah")
Common name: Foxtail Agave
Originally from: Central Mexico
Blooms: One, crazy, arching 5-10' long spike.
Light: Full sun to light shade.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4-5' x 6-8'
Zones: 9b to 12
Where to find in P. Garden: We have some in the left bed, middle front bed, and also down at the North end of PRG

Are you looking for a plant that makes a big architectural statement, needs no water, but don't want something spiky and pokey? Agave attenuata has all the most epic agave qualities and no teeth, spikes, spines or other ways to get stabbed.

For an agave, it's also a relatively fast grower, even producing lots of babies along the trunk it creates (yes - an agave with a trunk!) and can handle damper conditions well. It comes in various variegated and "blue" colored forms too, so you can mix up the look. At PG we have the regular apple-green type, and the blue type ("Nova" or Boutin Blue")

Snails will munch on it, as will deer given the chance, and the leaves are breakable if you bump into them, so that's the down side of such soft leaves.

It is native to the plateau of central Mexico in the states of Jalisco, México and Michoacán where it grows on rocky outcrops in pine forests from 6000-8000 feet in elevation. French-Belgian botanist Henri Guillaume Galeotti (1814 – 1858) founds some in central Mexico and sent them to Kew Gardens. From Jalisco east to Mexico City, it lives in small colonies at elevations of 1,900 to 2,500 meters (6,200 to 8,200 feet), but there have been few recorded sightings - it seems to be rare in the wild.

While we have had these for a long time, none of them has ever flowered. They produce a 5 to 10 foot vertical flower stalk that curves down towards the ground before arching upward again, giving this plant the common name, the Foxtail agave – it is also called Lion's Tail Agave and Swan's Neck Agave. The flowers are a pale greenish yellow and are followed by seed pods and many bulbils (mini plants) which you can later share with 800 of your closest friends.

It has two subspecies: A. attenuata subsp. attenuata: Native to Central and Southwest Mexico and naturalized in Madeira and Libya, and A. attenuata subsp. dentata: Native to Northwest and Southwest Mexico. I have never seen the latter type for sale, but would love to have one.

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