Agave is a stylish succulent with large rosettes of soft fleshy leaves that has long been highlighted in gardening magazines and television shows.
The foliage is wide and often heavily armed with dark tipped spines. The leaves are tightly packed and often leave impressions of the leaf margins as the leaves unfurl. The stout stem is usually short, the leaves apparently springing from the root. Slow growing and long lived, they have the ability to grow 60cm (24in) wide and as tall.
Eventually the plant matures sufficiently to bloom, after 8 to 20 years of slow growth, generally producing yellow blooms in spring then die. The fruits are capsules and containing black seed which varies. 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.
Agaves species vary in colour, shape and form but all are fantastic specimen plants. Adding interesting form and texture to garden beds they are particularly popular in modern, architectural garden designs. They are great used as feature plants in Mediterranean and modern style landscapes, pots and containers, rockeries, embankments and tropical style gardens. Agave are one of the easiest plants to establish and maintain and make a bold statement in any garden.
Many species of agave are native to Mexico and the Mojave Desert where it can be found on open rocky slopes and dry scrubland. The Spanish conquerors gave to the name Maguey to the agave and the name is still in use today in Mexico. However, it was first called metl by the Mesoamerican tribe, the Nahuatl of which the Aztecs are descended. Metl was so valuable to the Aztecs that the name of the land they settled in, Mexico, actually means ‘those fed from the navel of the maguey’. This plant is so sacred and revered historically by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, that through mythology, religion and lifestyle it is completely rooted within cultural history.
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 to 10 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, the 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 Agave were placed among the Liliaceae, but now Agave and related forms have been placed in the family Agavaceae.
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.
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 blooming repeatedly through the life of the plant.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25 Seeds Family Agavaceae Genus Agave Species Mixed Species Common Name American Aloe (It is not an Aloe) Hardiness Tender Perennial Flowers Yellow, flower clusters arise along the stem Natural Flower Time In their native environment, they flower in late winter to spring Foliage Succulent leaves Position Grow in bright sun Soil Agaves prefer 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)