Dwarf cowhorn agave (Agave cupreata)
In my previous post I mentioned that I recently found a dwarf cowhorn agave (Agave cupreata) at a Sacramento area Home Depot garden center. I couldn’t resist since it was such a perfect specimen:
Agave cupreata at Home Depot
After I got home, I did some research. It’s not a commonly cultivated species, and neither Greg Starr (Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2012) nor Mary Irish (Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants: A Gardener's Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2000) had an entry for it in their books.
Howard Gentry (Agaves of Continental North America. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1982) does describe it, putting it in the Crenatae group (same as Agave bovicornuta). He says, “[its] habitat is a frostless zone below the Tropic of Cancer with 30-35 inches (73-86 mm) of annual rain, falling mainly between May and November.” That’s quite a lush area; we only get about 17 inches in an average year (plus our summers are dry while our winters are wet).
The website of San Marcos Growers, my go-to source for agave cultivation info, says, “Mostly listed as hardy to around 28° F but can go a little colder—large plants in Goleta California were not damaged at 26° F in January 2007.” They rate Agave bovicornuta as hardy to 25°F, so the two are about the same in terms of hardiness. If our winters continue to be as mild as they have been lately, I won’t have to worry about protecting it.
The Agave cupreata I bought will be planted where our front lawn is right now—after we tear it out and replace it with another succulent mound. Hopefully this project will get underway in the next two months. It all depends on when our landscaper is available to do the hard work.
As you can see from these photos, I’m quite enamored with my new purchase. The wavy leaves with their pronounced teats and razor-sharp teeth are quite striking. This is definitely not a plant you’d want to handle drunk!
But I’m a sucker for dangerous plants and am excited to have this Agave cupreata in my collection.
The species name, cupreata, means “made of copper” in Latin and refers to the teeth and terminal spines which are a rich cinnamon color. This is a trait Agave cupreata shares with its bigger cousin, the cowhorn agave (Agave bovicornuta).
Speaking of the cowhorn agave (Agave bovicornuta), it looks quite similar as you can see below. The main differences are the leaf color (bovicornuta is apple green while cupreata is bluish green) and size (bovicornuta is 3-5 feet wide while cupreata is 2-3 feet wide).
The first Agave bovicornuta below is in my front yard. The others are at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA and at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ.
Agave bovicornuta at Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, CA
Agave bovicornuta at Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ
I think both cowhorn agaves, dwarf and regular, are among the most ornamental agave species. Unfortunately, their limited hardiness does restrict their usability somewhat. But they would still make great container specimens in places where they can’t be grown in the ground.