Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Octopus agave bulbils: is there such a thing as "too many?"

Five years ago friends of ours adopted an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) I'd removed from the driveway bed. They planted it in the meadow garden in their front yard where it was much happier than it had been at our house.

This spring it started to send up a flower stalk, signaling the beginning of the end. Here's a sequence of photos from our friend Paul showing the progress of the inflorescence:

Agave vilmoriniana is solitary during its lifetime but it employs a sure-fire propagation strategy to ensure its genetic material lives on: It produces bulbils, miniature clones that form on the inflorescence after the flowers are done blooming. This is not unusual--several agave species make bulbils--but Agave vilmoriniana seems to be particularly good at it.

Our friend Paul cut the bulbil-laden flower stalk into several sections to make it easier to harvest the bulbils. But he quickly realized that there are far more bulbils than he could ever give away.

After filling four planting trays, Paul decided that giving away entire sections of the flower stalk is the way to go



When Paul offered to share their bounty, I gladly accepted, thinking he would bring us maybe a dozen bulbils. Imagine how surprised we were when we opened the front door and saw Paul standing there with this:


The flower stalk section he gave us measures 28 inches:


Amazing how densely packed these bulbils are! 


Does anybody want to venture a guess how many bulbils there are on our 28" section? Hundreds? Thousands?

You'd think that all these plantlets are more than enough to ensure that there will be a next generation. But this Agave vilmoriniana isn't taking any chances--it has even produced seeds! Talk about determination!

As you can see, some of the bulbils are much larger than the others. They could easily be put in 4" pots now.



Now you may be wondering what I'm going to do with a zillion Agave vilmoriniana bulbils. Don't worry, I don't have any plans to open an octopus agave nursery. I'm going to pop off a few bulbils for myself and take the rest of the flower stalk to the next meeting of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society this coming Monday, August 27th. Stop by if you're in the area and get your own bulbil! 


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17 comments:

  1. That shot with your friend Paul is priceless!

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    1. I agree. I think he was smiling from ear to ear because he had just gotten rid of 1/5 of his bulbils.

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  2. That's an excellent plan (although I did wonder for a moment if you had plans to go into the nursery business).

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  3. Love this! My Agave vilmoriniana bloomed this spring also and I've been wondering what I'll ever do with all of the bulbils. The stalk is still standing but I should take it down soon before it falls on a passerby.
    Five of my six Blue Glow agaves also bloomed around the same time. No bulbils there but the base plants are still looking healthy, while the poor vilmoriniana mother plant has dried and shriveled, putting its energy into all those bulbils!

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    1. I wish 'Blue Glow' produced bulbils like vilmoriana does :-).

      Good luck with your own 'Blue Glow'. You should be getting some offsets.

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  4. Vilmoriniana does indeed prove that there is such a thing as "too many".

    I bet the variegated version will be less generous.

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    1. Good question about the 'Stained Glass', the variegated Agave vilmoriniana. I have never seen photos of a flowering 'Stained Glass'. I think everything that's in cultivation is tissue-cultured.

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  5. Wow, that's a lot of bulbils! Plants do the coolest things.

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    1. I couldn't agree more! Always something new to discover.

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  6. I love this every time I see it! (in posts -- I've never seen it in person)

    If only these could be curved into a ring, they'd make the perfect wreath for Loree's door!

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    1. Your comment about making it into a ring made me laugh. That's what I tried to do, but the stalk is so stiff it doesn't bend much at all. But yes, it would have made the coolest holiday wreath ever.

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  7. I counted and planted over 400 plants from mine 5 years ago and I still have them around trying to get rid of them.I sell about 5000 plants a year from my backyard nursery but can's move them fast enough. Gary from Heritage Succulents, Oxnard CA

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    1. Wow, that's a lot of plants! Can I send you some more? Just kidding :-)

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  8. Oh I wish I wasn't in Kansas! :-(

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    1. Me too! Otherwise I would have sent you a bulbil. Unfortunately, agaves don't make great houseplants and this one gets much too big to overwinter inside.

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  9. I’ve still got 5 plants, and figured I was screwed with that many!

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