Monday, July 13, 2015

Agave bulbils—hundreds, maybe thousands of them!

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the next installment in my ongoing saga centering on the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ near our front door. It began to flower about nine months ago. The last time I wrote about it, on May 13, the first bulbils began to emerge. Now there are so many, I can’t even begin to count them—there are possibly thousands!

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Agaves take a long time to produce flowers. How long depends on the species. But even my Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’, which has a reputation for flowering young, took about seven years. Other agaves grow to be twenty or thirty years old before they send up a flower stalk.

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Most agaves die after they flower because they invest all their energy reserves into producing their massive inflorescence (a behavior called “monocarpic”). A few bloom repeatedly, much like a perennial plant would.

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The mother plant is all but dead now

The majority of agaves reproduce either by seed and/or live offsets (“pups”). But a few produce something else instead or in addition to pups: bulbils. Bulbils are miniature plants that grow along the flower stalk and eventually fall off and root. To me this is the most miraculous reproduction strategy. Looking at the flower stalk of my Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ covered with countless bulbils, it’s easy to see where all of the mother plant’s energy went.

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My goal is to find the bulbils with the best variegation

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The one in the center is striking but may not have enough chlorophyll to survive

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The obvious question is how long I will leave the flower stalk up. The answer is simple: Since it’s too hot to do much of anything until September, I imagine for a few more months. This will give the bulbils the chance to grow to a truly viable size. I’ll have so many babies, I won’t know what to do with them, especially since there are at least three rather large pups hiding under that momma rosette.

If you want any bulbils, please let me know how many. All I ask is that you cover postage.

16 comments:

  1. The selection process for the best ones to keep should be fun!

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    1. In the fall I'll cut down the flower stalk and lay it on the front lawn so I can take a close look at the bulbils.

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  2. They are such amazing flowers. I would make sure you keep a few different forms as they may well change once planted and rooted, but you are going to have whatever you decide.

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    1. I'll keep a dozen of the most interesting looking bulbils. I'm hoping there are some nice surprises in there somewhere.

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  3. Gerhard, I'll take a handful for the high school's plant sales, when you harvest. Sue

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    1. Sure thing! You can even have the pups from the mother plant. They're significantly larger.

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  4. It would be fun to sort through those to find the "best" ones -- like looking at volunteer seedlings but you look up instead of down! :)

    (I'll take some of those. Are they ready to leave mom now? That would be better than waiting until Fall for my climate.)

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    1. Alan, I'll harvest a few of the largest bulbils for you now. If they don't root, I'll send you more in the fall.

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  5. You have lots to experiment with! Good luck with your nursery.

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    1. LOL. As if I have the room or time for an agave nursery :-)

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  6. I planted all the heavily variegated ones I got--maybe 50 of them--most of them turned green, have just 5 or 6 left that are still heavily variegated. A couple more still heavily variegated on just half the plant. They are super slow growers compared to the green ones.

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    1. I noticed exactly that with Agave 'Joe Hoak', which has much less chlorophyll than the regular variegated version of Agave desmettiana. It's a much slower grower, at least initially. My largest 'Joe Hoak' has finally kicked it up a notch this year.

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  7. You're rich! What a fun thing, to have so many baby agaves to play with.

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    1. Rich! If I got $10 for every bulbil, I'd have a downpayment on a property in Tucson, LOL.

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  8. You can bring some north with you on your next trip to PDX, Gerhard. :)
    Just thinkin' ahead!

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    1. Sure thing! We have an unused vegetable bed in the backyard, and I plant on filling it with bulbils so I can share the wealth.

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