Hawaii: Foxtail agave (Agave attenuata) loves hot and humid island climate

The Big Island of Hawaii isn’t a place you go to see succulents. The wet eastern side—some places receive in excess of 150 inches a rain a year—would kill most succulents. Although much drier, the western side isn’t a hotbed of succulent activity either. I did spot a few very large Agave americana, including the even more monstrous variegated variant, as well as the occasional Furcraea foetida, a frost-sensitive Caribbean agave relative, but that was about it. With one exception: the foxtail agave (Agave attenuata). It seems to grow everywhere here on Hawaii, be it in hot and humid Hilo on the eastern side and in much drier Hawi on the northwestern tip of the island.

The photos in this post were all taken in the small town of Hawi in the North Kohala district. A thriving hub during the heyday of sugarcane cultivation (pre-1980), Hawi’s claim to fame today is that it’s the northernmost point of the bicycle leg of the Ironman World Championship Triathlon. Hawi sports a couple of dozen restaurants, galleries and boutiques—and the most impressive clumps of Agave attenuata I’ve seen anywhere on Hawaii.







Dozens of babies growing on a dried-up bloom stalk



I’m sure people in Hawi think Agave attenuata is nothing special. But for me, living in a climate that is just a few degrees too cold in the winter to grow it successfully, it is. I continue to obsess over Agave attenuata even though I’ve sworn more times than I can count that I would be done with it.

But what would the life of a plant collector be without a challenge!


  1. So they do well in tropical areas too, cool! These agaves seems so adaptable as they do well too in rainy and temperate Madeira, and in drier, non humid areas but they seem to be their best where they regularly get moisture on the ground. If only they could tolerate cold and frost too!

  2. This reminds me of Santa Barbara where Andrew compared them to tulips in the PNW, meaning the were everywhere and (to him) nothing special. Personally I never tired of seeing them!

  3. I love this agave as well and it's frustrating it doesn't stand a chance here. It is one of those agaves that goes from fine to mush overnight at -3C. I found out when i left mine outside a little too long one winter. I got to do a post on my one, as it looks stupid now, a 3foot long vertical trunk with a thin leaved attenuata sitting at the top. So great to see some stunning plants.

  4. It's a great, versatile agave that, like Andrew, I used to find a little too common. I love the variegated forms and the hybrids it leads to like 'Blue Flame.' I'm not sure if you're home yet, but if still in Hawaii I hope you're out of the incoming storms' way!

  5. They are indeed the most garden friendly of Agaves, less spines and easy to handle, I have to be brave to cut them back when they grow tall, hear they are best sitting flat. Lucky to harvest several pups

  6. Where can I purchase Crème Brulee Agave in Hawaii?


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