Catching up with agave wizard Greg Starr in Tucson

Over the years, I've become friends with Greg Starr, author of the Timber Press book Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers and owner of Starr Nursery. I visit him and his wife Carol whenever I'm in Tucson, and this time was no exception. I always love hearing about his discoveries on agave expeditions to Mexico and seeing what he has growing in his greenhouses. And I never fail to find cool plants I simply must have.

Greg lives on the west side of Tucson, pretty close to the edge of the city. The Tucson Mountains are just a few miles away; beyond them are the western unit of Saguaro National Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Old Tucson Studios theme park.

The properties in this part of Tucson seamlessly merge into the desert. "Borrowed scenery" is not just an abstract concept here, it's reality:

This is Greg's house from the road:

Starr Nursery is behind the house and consists of several greenhouses and maybe a dozen outside tables. Unfortunately, the outside tables were covered with frost cloth because of an approaching cold front, and the last thing I wanted was for Greg to uncover them just for me. 

The greenhouses were nice and toasty. In fact, it was so warm, I was looking around to see what heater Greg uses. None, it turns out. The heat was generated by the sun shining on the opaque plastic. No better heat than free heat!

The greenhouses are chock full of plants, and carefully looking at all the plants would have taken me hours. Some day I'll see if Greg will set me loose in the greenhouses while he does other chores! 

As you can see from the photos below, it takes a tremendous amount of self-restraint to not want one of everything. Bear in mind I'm only showing a small fraction of what there is!

Agave aff. sobria

Ariocarpus fissuratus

Ariocarpus fissuratus

Astrophytum myriostigma

Three Astrophytum species: A. myriostigma, A. ornatum and A. capricorne

LEFT: Astrophytum capricorne (front)  RIGHT: Astrophytum ornatum

Ferocactus gracilis ssp. coloratus

Agave pelona

Agave bovicornuta, tissue cultured plants from Rancho Tissue Technologies

Agave bovicornuta, quite a bit further along

Agave bovicornuta 'Heifer's Cream'. This is Greg's variegated cultivar; very rare, still unavailable.

Agave albopilosa, tissue cultured babies from Rancho Tissue Technologies

Somewhat larger Agave albopilosa

One of Greg's largest Agave albopilosa, grown from habitat-collected seed

RIGHT: Agave chazaroi

Agave ellemeetiana, spineless, tropical, and extremely wimpy

The first batch of Greg's variegated Agave ovatifolia, the result of coring the original mother plant

Do I want one? You bet! Badly? BADLY! But Greg wasn't quite ready to sell yet.

Greg holding a rare Hechtia argentea

Two larger Hechtia argentea, grown from habitat-collected seed. There are very few reliable sources for the real Hechtia argentea, and Greg is one of them.

Fouquieria macdougalii, two large plants Greg was given by a lady who wanted to get rid of them. These would be many hundreds of dollars in a commercial nursery!

We spent a long time looking at greenhouse plants, but I did manage to squeeze in a walk outside. Greg and Carol's landscaping is a seamless extension of the surrounding desert even if the plants are from further away—like Texas and Mexico in the photo below:

Yucca rostrata and Echinocactus grusonii

Yucca rostrata

Yucca rostrata and Agave inaequidens

One of my favorite vignettes

Agave ovatifolia peeking through two saguaros

Agave ovatifolia

Agave parrasana × Agave potatorum, a hybrid created by Brian Kemble, the curator at the Ruth Bancroft Garden and a frequent traveling companion of Greg's. I brought home a seedling. 

Agave ovatifolia

Agave parryi var. parryi

Agave deserti ssp. simplex

Agave zebra

Agave horrida ssp. perotensis

Agave deserti ssp. deserti

Look at the banding on this agave. Greg isn't sure what it is.

Agave parrasana and Agave salmiana var. ferox

Agave 'Mad Cow' (A. colorata × A. bovicornuta)

Agave 'Mad Cow' has impressive teeth

Since most agaves are monocarpic, i.e. they die after flowering, it's only logical that the garden of an agave grower has its fair share of dead ones. However, the two agaves below succumbed for other reasons, and sometimes not even an expert of Greg's caliber knows what the cause of death is. Occasionally, plants just die. It's just how it is. 

I do think that these agave remains, just like saguaro and cholla skeletons, have a beauty all their own. I'm glad Greg left them in his garden.

Agave victoria-reginae

Agave parrasana

My Starr Nursery haul included the following:
  • Agave colorata
  • Agave parrasana × potatorum
  • Agave pelona
  • Agave temacapulinensis
  • Fouquieria fasciculata
  • Fouquieria purpusii
  • Hechtia argentea 
I'll post photos after I've repotted/planted them.

To buy plants from Greg, visit If you don't see what you're looking for, simply email him.


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  1. Those variegates not ready for sale are the stuff of dreams! And I can completely vouch for A. ellemeetiana being a wimp.

  2. Fantastic photos and great to see as I have Greg's book "Living sculptures..... Thanks

  3. Thanks for the tour! Great stuff.

  4. Some people need storage units - you need an extra plot of land.

    1. Ha! I've never thought of it this way but you're exactly right Kris. Sign me up for that extra plot too...

    2. We had a neighbor once who was very business-savy, and he said the best investment is storage units. He built a big storage facility in Sacramentp right under the freeway where no other business wanted to go.

  5. Those Agave albopilosas!! Coming soon to a C&S Best in Show table near you...

  6. Damn! So much good stuff. I wonder if Greg would let me visit the next time we're in Tucson? And I absolutely love that there are Agaves in his garden which he can't name (even the experts have trouble), and dead Agaves too! Which I agree are beautiful. Much nicer than when an Agave dies here and turns into a pile of stinky mush.

    1. Of course!! Greg's the nicest guy. And he *is* in the business of selling plants :-).

  7. O my, what treasures. Be still, my Agave-loving heart.

    Hey, ellemeetiana is gorgeous here. So no dissing, eh?

    1. Not diss intended for Agave elemeetiana. I'd grow it in a heartbeat if I could do it reliably!

  8. Oh, gorgeous! I can see why you want one of everything... I would share your problem, which is why i shouldn't click on that link!

    1. In a twisted way, I actually prefer to have a smaller selection to choose from when I go to a store. Otherwise it takes me forever to make a decision.


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