Agave bracteosa has truly weird flowers

During my last visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden, I noticed a bunch of strange flowers. Here's one of them:

Viewed up close, as in the photo above, it might be not be obvious what it is.

Let's zoom out a little:

Still not obvious.

Zooming out a little more:

These weird undulating inflorescences that look a bit like bottlebrush (Callistemon) flowers belong to the squid agave, Agave bracteosa. It would be reasonable to think it got this common name because of its flower stalks, but it's actually because of its leaves:

Agave bracteosa at the UC Davis Arboretum

While the leaves aren't as tentacle-like as the octopus agave's (Agave vilmoriniana), they do have a degree of waviness to them.

Agave bracteosa at the danger garden in Portland, OR

Agave bracteosa is one of the more popular agave species because its leaves are relatively soft and unarmed except for slightly rough leaf margins. In addition, it's very hardy (down to 8°F), allowing it to be grown in climates where other agaves wouldn't survive.

Agave bracteosa isn't a fast grower by any measure, but since it offsets, it can form a sizable clump over time. The cultivar 'Calamar' is mostly solitary if that's the look you prefer.

Several variegated selections are available, including 'Monterrey Frost' (white stripe) and 'Sting Ray' (creamy stripe, see here).

Agave bracteosa 'Monterrey Frost' in Morro Bay on the Central California coast

As you can see, Agave bracteosa is a nice plant for any garden, whether succulent-heavy or not. Since it's so slow, you'll be able to enjoy it for a decade or more before it finally flowers (and then dies). But when the time comes, this agave goes out with a bang:

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  1. I guess I missed that one when I was there a couple weeks ago-or maybe it was a month ago ? Keeping track of time is not what it used to be. My little 'Monterey Frost' lives in a pot-in fact it needs to be moved to a larger one-so I don't expect it to ever produce these interesting blooms. It's so elegant though. Maybe I should plant it in the ground.

    1. It's right outside Ruth's Folly, on the west side.

      'Monterrey Frost' would happily spend its life in a pot, I think.

  2. Interesting how the bloom stalk's across agave are so different looking! Also worth mentioning 'Mateo' as a variety worth having. It's a richer green with subtle variegation - feels a bit more tropical than the std version.

    1. You're right, there's so much variety in agave inflorescences. I'm grateful the RBG is reasonably close so I can see so many flowering agaves.

      I have a 'Mateo', too, and it's much bigger than Agave bracteosa--or Agave lophantha, its other parent.

  3. Very sculpture-like. Will there be pups to replace the parent plant?

  4. I don't know that I've ever seen an Agave bracteosa bloom, thanks for the preview.

  5. This is the first time I've ever seen a bloom on Agave bracteosa. It made me think of foxtail lilies. I've got several of these Agaves but I expect it'll be a very long time before I get a show like yours.

    1. I'm just as happy to see flowering agaves elsewhere instead of my own garden. At least I don't have to deal with removing the carcasses of the bloomed-out plants.


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