Agave - The Century Plant
...and you don't have to wait 100 years to see
Steven Furness, 46 Preston Lane, Allerton Bywater, Castleford, West
Chamaerops No. 2, published online 23-11-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Agave americana veriegata: USA citizen with permanent
European resident status.
Agave (pronounced 'Ag-a-vee'): succulent, exotic
plants originating in the warmer regions of the western hemisphere,
the Americas. Agave americana is capable of attaining great size
with mature rosettes of some 3-4m across with individual leaves
of 2.5m in length. Anyone who has seen these plants in central or
southern Europe will openly admit that they are very striking, indeed
spectacular. In this ideal climate they are capable of thrusting
a large flower spike lOin high into the air. These flower spikes
are similar in appearance to those produced on Phormiums to which
they are related.
Widely distributed throughout southern Europe, A. americana has
established itself in the wild on roadside verges, hillsides, and
sometimes even beaches. They are most common in mild coastal areas,
but can also be found on high ground where the winters are less
The genus to which they belong is Agavaceae, a large
group of shrubs and herbs. Sisal, used in rope making, is produced
from one species, A. sisaliana. The leaves of A. americana are very
large, thick, fleshy and sword shaped, edged with sharp hooks and
ending in a very sharp spike which is quite dangerous and best trimmed
from plants in gardens. It is not recommended for use where children
could come into contact with it.
The leaves grow in a rosette for about 25 years
before the plant has enough stored energy to flower, and after this
exciting event has taken place, the plant dies, only to be replaced
by the many offsets produced during the life of the parent. It used
to be thought that this process took 100 years, which earned it
the common name of 'Century Plant'.
There are several varieties of Agave worth growing,
but none is more spectacular than A. americana, the leaves of which
are a grey-green colour with a yellow edge. Its natural habitat
is the warm climate of Mexico, but it is adaptable and can endure
temperatures as cold as those experienced in northern France, southern
England, and Ireland. In this unnatural climate the plants may still
reach a height of 1.5m.
In my cold northern England garden I have grown
several plants outside, unprotected for at least 3 winters. The
lowest temperature they have been exposed to is -11¾C (-12¾F) and
as I am writing this (in mid-February) they are under a blanket
of snow, and have been for four days.
They can be planted on an exposed, windy site as
the wind has little effect on the thick, fleshy leaves, however,
they must have a very free draining soil. This is best achieved
by digging in large amounts of coarse sand and broken bricks to
a ration of 50%, with light soil making up the balance. The addition
of some farmyard manure is advisable to get the plant off to the
best possible start. They should be sited in full sun, ideally,
but not necessarily, with the protection of a south-facing wall.
Offsets can easily be detached and potted up into
small pots again using free-draining soil, and grown on for a few
years in an unheated greenhouse before being transferred to the
Once planted outside, protection will only be required
on the harshest of cold nights and then only a light covering of
some kind will be necessary. I use an old bed sheet thrown over
the plant, and held in place naturally by the sharp thorns!
Agave americana once established needs very little
attention other than the tips of the leaves being removed if required,
and the addition of some high nitrogen liquid fertilizer during
the summer months. If these simple steps are taken, there is no
better addition to 'the Exotic Garden' than one of these spectacular
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