Agave mckelvyana is a small, relatively rare, dwarf species of Agave from western Arizona. It grows on open rocky slopes and dry scrubland in the Mojave and Yavapai between 900 and 1,800 metres (3,000 and 6,000 ft). It is one of the hardiest agaves, to -15°C (5°F) it is tolerant of drought and severe freezes and can take winter rain without overhead protection.
Unlike its huge relative the Century Plant, this little beauty grows to around 38 to 60cm (15 to 24in) tall and 45cm (18in) in diameter. It forms a tight rosette of broad, bluish green, fleshy leaves with small teeth. The stout stem is usually short, the leaves apparently springing from the root.
McKelvey's Century Plant grow slowly and flower but once after a number of years. The number of years before flowering occurs depends on the vigour of the individual, the richness of the soil and the climate; during these years the plant is storing in its fleshy leaves the nourishment required for the effort of flowering.
Once mature over spring and summer, a slender arching flower spike grows from the centre of the leaf rosette. The panicle grow to 3 metres (10ft) and is densely covered with cream-yellow, shortly tubular flowers. After development of fruit the plant dies down, but suckers are frequently produced from the base of the stem which becomes new plants.
Sowing: Sow indoors at any time of year.
Fill small pots or trays with a light and well-aerated compost. (John Innes Seed Compost, with the addition of ½ gritty sand is an old favourite) Do not firm the mixture down. Stand the pots in water, moisten thoroughly and drain. It is a good plan to stand the containers on a tray of damp sand, so that they do not dry out.
Scatter the seed onto the top of the compost or, if the seed is larger, sow individually and press lightly into the compost. Do not cover small seeds with compost. Secure a polythene bag around the pot or cover the container with glass or and place in a warm shaded place. If possible, germinate in a propagator. Care should be taken to prevent the pots drying out from below. Many people make use of a warm place such as the airing cupboard, or near the kitchen boiler.
The majority of seeds germinate best at a temperatures of 22 to 24°C (70 to 75°F). Some seedlings may appear within a week or 10 days others will take longer. At lower temperatures, germination usually takes considerably longer.
Once germination has taken place, remove the glass or plastic and move into a good light. Be careful to keep the top of the compost damp. As soon as the first seeds have germinated, remove the plastic or lid to permit some circulation of air. From now on, the tiny seedlings need to be in a good light, but must be protected from direct sun. Shade from all but winter sun is for the first 12 months. If the young plants are exposed to too much sun, or the compost dries out, they may stop growing and often turn red; once they stop, it is often difficult to persuade them to start growing again.
After germination and at intervals of about 10 days, it is as well to spray with a fungicide. It is as well to continue this treatment for 8 to10 weeks, or until the seedlings look like miniature agave. Never let the pots dry out-but don't saturate them either. A sodden compost is as harmful as a dry one.
Prick out when the seedlings are large enough to handle. Agaves prefer rich and very free draining compost. Keep at a minimum of 16°C (60°F) during their first winter and water carefully. Grow in bright sun as strong sunlight will encourage the full colours of the leaves to develop.
The plant requires light and well-drained soil and can tolerate drought. It cannot grow in the shade. They should be kept almost dry during the winter months, only water them to prevent the roots from completely drying out, once a month should be fine. They are best grown in an unglazed terracotta pot with at least one drainage hole in the base. Repot the plant every two or three years - wrap the rosette in newspaper to prevent yourself from being stabbed! Offsets can be potted up at any time they are available. Keep in a warm greenhouse until they are well established
Seed are ground into flour. Flower stalk, roasted, & the Root cooked. The heart of the plant, which is partly below ground, is very rich in saccharine matter and can be eaten when baked. It is sweet and delicious and can be dried for future use or soaked in water to produce a flavourful beverage. Sap from the cut flowering stems is used as syrup. The sap can also be tapped by boring a hole into the middle of the plant at the base of the flowering stem. It can also be fermented into 'Mescal', a very potent alcoholic drink!
At one point agaves were placed among the Liliaceae, but now Agave and related forms have been placed in the family Agavaceae.
The genus name Agave is named for the queen of Thebes in Greek mythology and means 'illustrious'
The species name Mckelveyana is named for the 20th century American botanist, horticulturist and botanical historian Susan Delano McKelvey (1883-1964). McKelvey, of a wealthy Philadelphia family and cousin to future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fled a failing marriage in 1919 and moved to Boston where she immersed herself in the study of botany. With the encouragement of Charles Sargent, the longtime director of the Arnold Arboretum, she learned the art of plant collecting in the newly formed Glacier National Park in Montana in the summer of 1921. McKelvey collected in a grander style than botanists that preceded her and spent over a decade studying yuccas, of all things!
Many Agave species have the common name of Century Plant, somewhat implying that the plants live for a hundred years: a few decades is more the norm. The old cowboys call Agave 'Horse Cripplers' !
Plants of the genus agave generally are thought of as perennial because it takes more than one growing season to complete, but they are better considered as multiannuals since most of them bloom only once during the lifetime of the plant.
Most agaves are monocarpic, which means that the plants flower, set seeds and then die. (Other terms with the same meaning are hapaxanth and semelparous.) There are only a very few species of agave that are polycarpic, these bloom repeatedly through the life of the plant.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Family Agavaceae Genus Agave Species mckelvyana Common Name McKelvey's Century Plant, Dwarf Century Plant Other Common Names Maguey Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy One of the most cold hardy Agave species. Hardy to -15°C (5°F) Flowers After some years of slow growth, it produces a slender arching flower spike. Natural Flower Time Spring Foliage It forms a tight rosette of broad, bluish green, fleshy leaves with small teeth. Height 38 to 60cm (15 to 24in) Spread 45cm (18in) in diameter Position Grow in bright sun. Soil Rich and very free draining compost. Time to Sow Sow indoors at any time of year. Germination 7 to 10 days at 22 to 24°C (70 to 75°F)