Agaves revisited

It’s been a year and a half since I blogged about my favorite agaves. All of the varieties I described then are still among my favorites (some are included in this post as well) and many others have joined the collection.

While I didn’t set out to write about potted agaves in particularly, I realized after I’d assembled the photos for this post that they’re all of potted specimens. Since planting space in our garden is very limited, I’ve limited myself lately to buying varieties suitable for pot culture. By necessity, these are smaller species. While they don’t have the wow factor that a mature 4-foot rosette of Agave ovatifolia might have, these smaller plants invite up-close examination—something I find very enjoyable.

The Agave geminiflora in the first two photos lives in a large pot on our front porch. It gets virtually no direct sunlight, which doesn’t appear to be detrimental to its health or looks. With its hundreds of long, narrow leaves decorated with curly white hairs, it’s a very architectural plant. I bought it at Walmart in a 3-gallon container but it’s easily quadrupled in size since 2008.

Agave geminiflora
Agave geminiflora

Adult specimens of Agave ornithobroma (below) supposedly have a form very similar to Agave geminiflora (above), but my juvenile looks quite different. The leaves are thicker and instead of white curly hairs, there’s a papery white edge. This is a recent addition from UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.

Agave ornithobroma
Agave ornithobroma

Agave dasyliroides also has narrow strappy leaves but these are a bit stiffer than the other two species. The apple green color is beautiful and reminds me of Agave mitis seen in the next to last photo of this post. Agave dasyliroides is a relatively uncommon species in cultivation; mine originally came from the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

Agave dasyliroides
Agave dasyliroides

The next specimen is a particular favorite. Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost’ is a variegated sport of the squid agave. This spring I finally found one for sale at a reasonable price at the Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sale. It’s even slower growing than the all-green form, so I don’t expect it will outgrow this 6-inch container any time soon.

Agave bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost’

This is the regular form of Agave bracteosa. It’s now planted in a hollow-up pumice rock, a project I described here. ‘Calamar’ is a selection that doesn’t offset, otherwise it’s identical to the species. I bought it in June of 2009 and it’s only produced two or three leaves since then.

Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’

Sited in the backyard right next to Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’ is Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’. I’ve talked about my frustrating experiences with Agave attenuata before. It’s the most common landscaping agave in the Bay Area and in Southern California, but it just can’t tolerate temperatures much below 32°F and it also doesn’t like temperatures much above 90°F. In our climate that frequently makes for an unhappy camper.

‘Ray of Light’ is a new introduction with white leaf margins. I bought this one at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show in March, and so far it’s done great.

Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’

Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’ is my favorite of all the Agave americana cultivars. The almost pure-white stripe down the middle of relatively slender blue-gray leaves makes for a very elegant look. Mine is in a large glazed pot and has gone into a reproductive frenzy as seen by the many pups popping up along the perimeter of the pot. The leaf color of the babies is a steely blue.

Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’
Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’

Some people say Agave ‘Cornelius’ is an Agave americana sport, but nobody knows for sure. The wave leaf margins certainly are unique; only Agave gypsophila has a similar look.

Agave ‘Cornelius’ used to be rare but thanks to the miracles of tissue culturing is now widely available. Click here to see a mass planting of ‘Cornelius’ at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA.

TOP: Agave ‘Blue Flame’
BOTTOM: Agave ‘Cornelius’
Agave ‘Cornelius’

The next agave used to be sold as Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’ but it’s actually a variegated form of Agave applanata. “Applanata” means flattened, and you can definitely see why this name is so apt. This is a glacially slow-growing small plant that may never outgrow the 6-inch pot it’s currently in.

Agave applanata ‘Variegata’

Similarly small is Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’. The cultivar name means “queen of white thread-leaf” in Japanese, an allusion to the curling hairs along the leaf margins. In terms of pure elegance, this agave is hard to beat.

Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’

Somewhat similar looking but larger is ‘Hammertime’, a variegated variant of Agave × leopoldii (a hybrid between closely related Agave filifera and Agave schidigera). I know it’s difficult keeping all these species names straight, but once you’ve read them a few times, you’ll end up committing them to memory. Think of it as an anti-aging exercise for your brain!

Agave × leopoldii ‘Hammertime’

Continuing with small hairy agaves, this is Agave polianthiflora. It’s planted in another rock planter I made; this one is golden tufa rock. I’m very fond of these miniature agaves (this one is only about 5 inches across) because they will always remain small and I can own a whole bunch of them without needing much space.

Agave polianthiflora

From Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’ above you might have gathered that Japanese gardeners love agaves, too. Here’s another Japanese introduction, Agave ‘Kissho Kan’. There is a lot of guessing as to what species it might be (Agave potatorum is mentioned frequently) but nobody knows for sure. This is the perfect agave for pot culture; it forms a beautiful living sculpture of gray-green leaves with creamy margins and cinnamon-colored teeth and spines.

Agave ‘Kissho Kan’
Agave ‘Kissho Kan’

Agave isthmensis is another small species great for pots. The steely blue leaves have very visible bud imprints created by the teeth of newly emerging leaves. Agave isthmensis is on the wimpy side, needing protection below 32°F.

Agave isthmensis
Agave isthmensis

Agave titanota has perhaps the most intriguing teeth of all agaves. They truly look menacing but fortunately aren’t quite as sharp as you might think. The leaves are thick and substantial.

Agave titanota
Agave titanota

The agave seen in the middle of the next photo is Agave ‘Felipe Otero’ (sometimes also called ‘FO-76’). Seeds were first collected by, you guessed it, Felipe Otero in 1976. Some experts say it’s just a form of Agave titanota, others say it’s a different species. It, too, has very thick leaves but the teeth along the leaf margins are somewhat less pronounced.

Agave ‘Felipe Otero’ (FO-76)

The plants to the left and right of Agave ‘Felipe Otero’ in the photo above are Mangave ‘Bloodspot’, an intergeneric hybrid between Agave macroacantha and Manfreda maculosa. The spots are more pronounced on the new leaves in the center and fade as the leaves age, but the overall look is much more elegant than the Manfreda ‘Spot’ I recently evicted from our backyard.

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

My potted agaves live in different places in the front and backyard. I particularly like this corner of the front porch since there are five potted agaves right next to each other (not to mention the fishhook barrel cactus on the right).

Agaves on our front porch (left to right):
Agave mitis, Agave attenuata ‘Nova’, Agave bovicornuta, Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Agave chrysoglossa

The last photo is a close-up of Agave bovicornuta, the cow-horn agave. The rich green leaf color is offset beautifully by the cinnamon-colored spines. This is one of my all-time favorite agaves.

Agave bovicornuta

Click here to see a list of all agaves in my collection.


  1. You have a lovely collection, some out-of-the-ordinary species. 'Dragon Toes' is a nice petite one you might like.

    1. 'Dragon Toes' looks like a great one! Since it's tissue-cultured, it should become more widely available. I'll keep my eyes out for it! Where did you get yours?

  2. Beautiful photos of beautiful plants! Love your Agave collection and they are doing so well! Monterey Frost is still on my wishlist but hopefully it'll be more readily available here soon as I heard their tissue culture was succesful.

    1. 'Monterrey Frost' is a stunner even at the current size. I knew you'd like the variation :-).

  3. Holy Agaves! That is quite the collection and I am impressed by your knowledge about each of them.

    I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite (of yours, or mine), but I do wish my A. bovicornuta looked as good as yours does. It got rather discolored by bright spring sun and still hasn't bounced back.

    1. I think Agave bovicornuta is a somewhat tender species, both in terms of cold tolerance and how much sun it likes. Mine used to be in full sun but the deep green leaves were starting to take on a yellow cast and I decided to move it before it got sunburned. Now it's protected from the harsh afternoon sun and only gets a few hours of morning sun.

  4. What's the appeal of the Agaves that look like Yuccas? Wouldn't it be better to just have more Yuccas? (That's a serious question)

    1. It is a very good question. Which ones were you thinking of specifically? I don't think any of my agaves look too much like yuccas but that might be because I mentally file them under "agaves," not "yuccas."

      Oddly enough, it's much easier to find agaves in Northern California nurseries than yuccas. Even the truly stunning ones, like Yucca rostrata, are hard to find. I think yuccas in general are underappreciated.

  5. I just bought two agave attenuatas, one is blue flame. It was at Green Acres in a 5 gallon pot out in full sun. I think it was 100 today. I belong to the Daves Garden forums and was just told the Blue Flame and Attenuatas are fairly delicate... And now I'm worries about where to put them. They were to be in ground specimens. I am in Carmichael. 9b.

    1. I've found 'Blue Flame' to be much sturdier, both in terms of how much sun it can take and its cold hardiness. Mine gets a few hours of afternoon sun and likes it. I would still not put it in the full sun all day. 'Blue Flame' is a wonderful hybrid and it grows quickly, even in a pot, which is where mine is.

      Agave attenuata would need to be protected from noon and afternoon sun, otherwise the leaves will fry (they are quite delicate). It also doesn't handle frost well so make sure you cover it in the winter as needed.

      I hope this helps.

  6. Thank you so much! I'll leave my Blue Flame alone then. I just need to find out what my little attenuata is. It is a light green with ruffled edge leaves. So far so good in a couple hours of late afternoon sun. I'm loving looking through your blog. Fun that we live so close and I can see through your writings what is working.

    1. Great to hear that my blog is proving useful to you. Sharing my experiences, good and bad, is my main goal.

      I'm a bit puzzled about your attenuata. I've never heard of one with ruffled edges. How thick are the leaves? Agave attenuata has thin leaves that aren't very succulent. They look (and are) delicate. Here's a list of attenuata cultivars:

      As far as I know, these are all the straight attenuata cultivars in existence.

  7. I found out, by posting a pic on Daves Garden, that it is a gypsophila. It was 4 dollars and listed as an agave attenuata at Green Acres.

    1. Congrats, that's quite a find! I don't have any personal experience with Agave gypsophila but I've always wanted one. I think the wavy leaves look so cool. It should be able to take quite a bit more sun than Agave attenuata.

      Gotta swing by Green Acres this coming weekend to get myself one :-).

  8. It was the one in Folsom. They are on the succulent tables in the shade by the 2, 3 and 4 inch pots of asst. succulent and cacti. Good find! Yep. Go get one... :)

    1. I was near the Green Acres on Florin Perkins Rd today so I swung by. No Agave gypsophila, unfortunately, but I found a new-to-me hybrid called 'Little Shark,' potentially the same as the Agave 'Royal Spine' I admired at Ruth Bancroft Garden in the spring. It's a cross between Agave macroacantha and Agave victoriae-reginae.

  9. My agave blue flame has lower leaves turning yellow. I think it needs more shade.

    1. Did you repot it after you bought it? If not, wait until the root ball is fairly dry, then take it out of the pot and VERY CAREFULLY remove as much of the potting mix as possible (try not to break roots but if you do, don't worry). Most likely the potting mix high is in peat, which is very hard to rehydrate once it's dry (that's why nurseries rarely let plants dry out).

      Then repot using a cactus mix that's high in pumice or perlite and has NO PEAT. Do read the labels--some cactus & succulent mixes contain peat. My favorite is Black Gold, it's at least 1/3 pumice.

      Put the repotted plant in a mostly shady spot; some morning sun is good. Wait for three or four days, then water until it drains freely. Afterwards water when the soil feels dry, maybe once a week.

      After a few weeks move to a spot with a little more sun but do it gradually, maybe an extra hour of sun the first couple of days, then another extra hour, etc. until you've acclimatized it to its new home.

      Sorry for being so long-winded. I'm sure how much of this applies to you, but there it is :-).

    2. Wow! Thank you so much for the detailed help. I don't want lose that guy.

    3. My Blue Flame Agave was just replanted. It receives morning and early afternoon sun. I noticed that the leaves are beginning to turn yellow.
      I live in Arizona and have it hooked up to a drip system since the heat index reaches 115 degrees.
      Please advise on how to care for it. Thx

  10. I just bought a large Blue Flame Agave and have replanted it with a drip line. The heat index reaches 115 degrees in Arizona.
    It receives morning and early afternoon sun.
    Please advise on how to care for it.
    Warm regards.

    1. Scott, 115 degrees is pushing it a little for Blue Flame. One of its parents is Agave attenuata which isn't fond of heat (or cold).

      Since you just planted it, it's normal for some leaves to turn yellow. It will put most its energy into making new roots and getting established. Hopefully soon it will push new leaves.

      I think you're doing all that can be done: keeping it out of the afternoon sun and keeping it watered. Just make sure you don't OVERWATER it, otherwise it might rot. I'd let the top two inches of soil get dry before watering again.

  11. First, thank you in advance...I would love your recommendation (and I _love_ your blog)! I would like to plant a spineless agave in a chartreuse color that "matches" diamond heights ceanothus (link below). I am looking at agave varigata, agave varigata ray of light (kara's stripes looks to fragile), but am open to your suggestions. Genus and variety.

    My "big" question is sun bleaching as this happens to all my gold-colored plants (flax cream delight, the ceanothus, liriope sun spot, breath of heaven - everything!), i.e. full sun all day most of the year with temps. up to 98 degrees. Other things to know: I am fine with pups, I am fine with size, I am 9b with some coastal influence and wind, I need a spineless form as kids love jumping over this planting area (but have never fallen) , the planting area is an 18" wide strip and other plants all fail here, I have alkaline soil, but can amend, I am alert to snails, and my lowest temp. is 32 degrees and agave blue flame, and euchevria were perfectly happy without being covered although they more protected by other plants, these will be fully exposed and concrete gets colder than dirt.

    Based on your suggestion, what size gallon should I buy? I am somewhat impatient and know attenuata is slow growing. I would like at least the 18" filled out in 4 years.You seem the most expert on the web with the fine points of different agaves. And better than a call to a nursery! The color of the ceanothus is below:

    Thank you again!!!

    1. Melissa, great to hear from you! Thank you for writing.

      Agave attenuata is a great choice for your location since you don't seem to get any frost. Personally I don't like 'Kara's Stripe' (it looks sickly to my eyes), but 'Ray of Light' is a fantastic selection. The leaves are the same darker green as the regular attenuata though, plus a cream-colored margin. The most beautiful selection would be Agave attenuata 'Variegata' but those are hard to find AND expensive. If you start out with 5-gallon plants, they'll fill out your 18" strip in less than four years. Given enough water, Agave attenuata isn't all that slow growing.

      Another agave that might work well for you is Agave desmettiana 'Variegata', or even better, Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak'. Both are relatively fast growing and are reasonably kid-friendly if you clip off the terminal spines (easy to do).

      Or what about Agave guiengola 'Creme Brulee'? Beautiful plant, non-lethal, but potentially too large for your space.

      Please let me know what you end up deciding on!


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