Petite agaves under 12 inches

As I remove larger agaves from my garden (like this bloomed out Agave bovicornuta and soon Agave shrevei var. matapensis × guadalajarana), it’s a logical time to think about replacements. While in the past I might have chosen plants of equal size (typically “medium-size” species), I’m now leaning towards smaller agaves. There are two main reasons: I can squeeze more plants into the same space – maybe three, four or even five small agaves vs. one bigger one. And when they eventually flower and die, removal will be much easier.

As I’m working through different scenarios in my head for the two areas in the front yard that will need replanting, I’ve created a list of petite agaves that top out at 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter as adults. Admittedly, the cutoff is a bit arbitrary: Some species or cultivars are just a bit bigger than 12 inches, while others that are under 1 foot individually form clumps which are much wider.

Some of the agaves listed below are easy to find (especially Agave victoriae-reginae) while others will require some sleuthing. If you can think of any other petite agave to add, please leave a comment below.

Agave albopilosa

With its tufts of hair hiding the terminal spine at the leaf tip, Agave albopilosa is completely unique – there simply is no other agave species it could be confused with. Agave albopilosa was officially described in 2007 from a small population in Huesteca Canyon in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. For a good 10 years, plants grown from habitat seed were hard to come by and expensive. Now Agave albopilosa is in tissue culture (often sold under the cultivar name ‘Tufts’) and availability has improved.

Most people who see Agave albopilosa for the first time fall in love with it. I was no exception. I have two plants now (last two photos) and plan on putting one in the ground – I’d love to create a smaller version of what Len Geiger did in his garden.

Agave albopilosa at Aloes in Wonderland in Santa Barbara, California

Agave albopilosa in Greg Starr’s greenhouse in Tucson, Arizona

Prize-winning Agave albopilosa at the 2022 Inter-City Show in Arcadia, California

My larger Agave albopilosa (seed-grown)

My second Agave albopilosa (from tissue culture), barely large enough to produce its signature tufts of hair

Agave × arizonica

Agave × arizonica is a naturally occurring hybrid between the massive Agave chrysantha and the petite Agave toumeyana var. bella (see below). The result of this cross is the modest-size beauty you see below. I have several in the ground, and they’ve never gotten wider than 8 inches. For reasons I can’t fathom, Agave × arizonica is difficult to find (mine came from Cistus Nursery in Portland, Oregon). This is an agave that virtually any garden could accommodate. As a plus, it’s said to be hardy into the low 20s.

Agave × arizonica at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson

Agave × arizonica at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson

Agave × romanii ‘Shadow Dancer’

Agave × romanii (or romani) is an old hybrid between Agave filifera and Agave mitis var. albidior. A dwarf selection called ‘Shadow Dancer’ is in tissue culture and sometimes available even in mainstream nurseries. ‘Shadow Dancer’ is supposedly variegated, but I can’t find much variegation in any of the specimens I’ve seen. Still, it’s a very compact agave with wonderfully incurved leaves, reminiscent of a miniature Agave ocahui. I have two, which I bought at a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale in 2017. One of them is in the raised bed next to the front door:

Agave × romanii ’Shadow Dancer’

Agave parviflora

Agave parviflora, Agave polianthiflora, and Agave toumeyana var. bella are very similar in overall appearance and size. They’re well below a foot in diameter and are suitable for even the smallest gardens.

Agave parviflora is native to southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. I visited a population just a few miles from the Mexican border during my Arizona trip last December (see this post). I collected some seeds and now have about 50 small seedlings.

Note that big box garden centers occasionally carry an agave the grower, Altman Plants, claims is Agave parviflora. The labeling is incorrect. That plant is actually Agave × leopoldii.

Agave parviflora #1 in our front yard

Agave parviflora #2 in our front yard

Agave parviflora ’Pinpoint’, one of two variegated selections sold by Plant Delights

Agave parviflora ’Pin Up Girl’, the other variegated form offered by Plant Delights Nursery

Agave polianthiflora

Agave polianthiflora is similar to A. parviflora but has slightly longer leaves. Like A. parviflora, it’s sometimes available at succulent shows or plant sales.

Agave polianthiflora in our front yard

A variegated form of Agave polianthiflora in Jeremy Spath’s collection

Agave toumeyana var. bella

While Agave parviflora and A. polianthiflora are solitary, A. toumeyana var. bella suckers readily and can form large clumps in nature (see this photo taken at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona). Native to central Arizona, it’s one of the parents of Agave × arizonica.

Agave toumeyana var. bella in a cactus and succulent show

Juvenile Agave toumeyana var. bella in our front yard

Agave × leopoldii 

Agave × leopoldii is a hybrid between the closely related A. filifera and A. schidigera. Like its parents (and like A. parviflora, A. polianthiflora, and A. toumeyana var. bella above), it has lots of threads peeling off its thin leaves. It suckers profusely and requires regular maintenance (removal of offsets) if you don’t want an unruly colony. There’s also a variegated form called ‘Hammer Time’ which sports a narrow band of cream along the margins.

I’ve seen A. × leopoldii for sale at Home Depot as A. parviflora. The label is incorrect. A. × leopoldii is larger and offsets vigorously.

Agave × leopoldii in our front yard. Note the offsets peaking out from under the outer leaf edges.

Agave × leopoldii in our front yard after offset removal

Agave victoriae-reginae

When it comes to smaller agaves, the first species most people think of is Agave victoriae-reginae, the Queen Victoria agave. There are very good reasons for this: It’s one of the most beautiful agaves, and it’s widely available. On the downside, it’s a maddeningly slow grower. If you want a larger specimen and don’t want to wait, be prepared to shell out some $$$.

There are a number of different clones of A. victoriae-reginae in cultivation. Some are truly dwarf, others get close to the 1 foot mark or even exceed it. Some are solitary, some pup profusely. A. nickelsiae (formerly known as A. ferdinandi-regis) is closely related, but mature rosettes are closer to 2 feet in diameter, so beyond the cutoff for this post. A. pintilla (see below) is another relative; it’s the smallest of the three.

Agave victoriae-reginae at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson

Mass planting of Agave victoriae-reginae at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California

Agave victoriae-reginae on the UC Davis campus. This is one of the most beautiful specimens I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it flowered some years ago and is gone now.

Agave victoriae-reginae in a private garden in Goleta, California

Close-up of a Agave victoriae-reginae in a private garden in San Diego County

A dwarf form, Agave victoriae-reginae ’Himesanoyuki’, in our front yard

Agave victoriae-reginae ‘White Rhino’, a much sought-after variegated form

Agave pintilla

As mentioned above, Agave pintilla is closely related to Agave victoriae-reginae and Agave nickelsiae. Out of the three, it’s the smallest. Brian Kemble, the curator at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, just posted this comparison. Personally, I’d have a hard time telling A. pintilla apart from A. victoriae-reginae unless it had particularly striking white markings (not all of them do).

Agave pintilla in our front yard. The markings on this specimen are quite modest.

Agave pintilla in in Jeremy Spath’s collection

Agave pintilla in Greg Starr’s collection. These two have excellent markings.

Agave utahensis

Agave utahensis is one of my favorite small agaves. Its varieties eborispina and nevadensis meet the 12 inch size requirement of this post, while variety utahensis and subspecies kaibabensis are larger (in the case of kaibabensis much larger). A. utahensis var. eborispina and A. utahensis var. nevadensis are among the most attractive agaves, often sporting fantastically long terminal spines. Both are occasionally available at plant sales or in specialty nurseries. If you ever see one, buy it!

Agave utahensis var. eborispina in habitat near Las Vegas

Agave utahensis var. eborispina at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Agave utahensis var. eborispina (above) and var. nevadensis (below) grow in different locations, never in the same spot, but in cultivation, they’re often difficult to tell apart (same experts argue they should be considered the same thing). A. utahensis var. eborispina differs from var. nevadensis in leaf color (olive green vs. blue green) and length of spines: The terminal spines of var. eborispina are noticeably longer, sometimes twisted into fantastic corkscrews. 

Agave utahensis var. nevadensis in habitat

A particularly blue specimen of Agave utahensis var. nevadensis in a friend’s garden

A particularly blue specimen of Agave utahensis var. nevadensis in a friend’s garden

Agave potatorum ‘Cubic’

Agave potatorum ’Cubic’ is a true oddity. It has ridges on the back of the leaves that look like a second pair of leaves is trying to emerge – the chest burster scene in the horror movie The Thing comes to mind. These ridges give the plant a cube-like appearance, some say (I don’t really see it). I’ve read that this monstrose form is actually a tissue-culture aberration, but I haven’t been able to confirm that independently. Agave potatorum ’Cubic’ is often available at cactus and succulent society plant sales.

Agave isthmensis ‘Shoji Raijin’ and ’Ohi Raijin Shiro Nakafu’

These two Japanese clones are true dwarves, topping out at 4 inches per rosette. Agave isthmensis ‘Shoji Raijin’ is non-variegated, while ‘Ohi Raijin Shiro Nakafu’ has a wide band of white in the center of the leaf. There’s also a cream-colored form of ‘Ohi Raijin Shiro Nakafu’. The names are difficult for non-Japanese speakers to remember, let alone pronounce, but these agaves are perfect for pots or for a succulent rock garden.

Agave isthmensis ‘Shoji Raijin’

Agave isthmensis ‘Ohi Raijin Shiro Nakafu’ (this is Loree Bohl‘s plant)

Agave isthmensis ‘Moon Disc’, a sport of ’Ohi Raijin Shiro Nakafu’ with a wider central stripe (introduced by Plant Delights)

There are quite a few agaves just beyond the 12-inch diameter cutoff. The compact form of Agave isthmensis and Agave potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’ are just two examples. And there are several mangaves that would fit the bill, like ×Mangave ‘Praying Hands’. But I have to stop somewhere!

Compact form of Agave isthmensis

Agave potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’ at the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar, California

×Mangave Praying Hands’ at Solana Succulents

Note: Many agaves stay small for quite a while, but eventually they exceed 1 foot in diameter. The various forms of Agave parryi and Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’ are good examples. They appear to be compact agaves – and they are for many years. Eventually, though, they will become much larger. I've seen mature Agave parryi var. truncata that were a good 3 feet wide. And Agave applanata has the potential to reach up to 6 feet in diameter, although ‘Cream Spike’ will likely stay a bit smaller.

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. An excellent post for future reference!

  2. Beautiful pictures. As to Agave victoriae-reginae being expensive, that may well be the case in Davis, but A v-r is reasonably priced in Phoenix or Tucson, maybe you can buy one or more next time you're there. Also, A. parryi and its various forms are small, though they do pup a lot. Maybe it's so widely available you consider it too commonplace, especially since in your climate you can grow so many others.

    1. I have a few A v-r, but I'm always on the lookout for plants with particularly strong markings. Small plants are fairly reasonable here as well, but larger specimens definitely aren't.

      I'll add a note re: parryi to my post. They stay under 1 ft. for a long time but will eventually get much larger. I've seen parryi truncata that were at least 3 ft. in diameter.

    2. Wow -- 3 ft. Agave parryi! That's great news for those in colder climates who have only a couple of choices when it comes to agaves.

  3. Great list. As someone who lives in a cold climate my agave collection is in pots. Trucking them in and out of the garage for the winter is getting tough for some of the larger ones. I have a beautiful A victoriae-reginae that is 12" x15" so it must be mature. It's one of my pride and joys. I also have a lovely little A. 'Cream Spike' which stays quite small too.

    1. 12x15" is a good size for v-r. I've seen them bloom smaller than that.

      'Cream Spike' is so slow that it seems like it's a small plant. Over time, though, it will grow to 3-4 ft in diameter. Granted, it will take 10+ years...

  4. Thank you so much for this list. I have a small garden and like most newbies, when I started down the succulent, agave, cactus, mangave, etc etc road; I planted what I liked and some have become monsters that are devouring everything in their paths...ugh... When I replace them, I want to go to smaller plants, and I love the look of agaves so this will help me so much in my hunt..

    1. I'm glad you found my list useful. Like you, I've had my fair share of monsters that devour everything in their path, as you said. More compact plants is the way to go. I hope nurseries (and growers!) will catch on.

  5. Nice round up! Something about that Agave potatorum ’Cubic’ just says mealy bug magnet to me. I've got a huge crush on ×Mangave ’Praying Hands’ and recently acquired a small one.

    1. What you said about 'Cubic' made me chuckle. The specimen in the photos above belongs to my friend Kyle. I'll ask him to keep an eye on it. I don't have a 'Cubic' personally.

      Glad to know you found a 'Praying Hands'. I have three now, and while they are fairly slow growers, regular water and fertilizer during the summer definitely helps speed things up.

  6. An Aloe erinacea would fit in nicely with those, even if not actually an agave.

    I really do need to find a "praying hands".

    1. Agreed! If Aloe erinacea were an agave, it would be a cool addition to my list.

  7. I have an Agave 'Dragon Toes' that's supposed to be about 12 inches at maturity, but it does sucker, so the ultimate clump will be wider. My A. macroacantha has stayed at about 12 inches for several years.

    1. My macroacantha ‘Little Penguins’ is close to the 1 foot mark and doesn’t seem like it’s in a hurry to pup unlike most macroacanthas.

    2. That's good to know. I've only seen 'Little Penguins' online.

  8. These smaller agaves look so tidy. I am forgetting how I swore them off after losing a few to the rain last year. lol. Especially the Praying Hands is calling to me.

    1. Don't give up. I lost some, too (and some mangaves), but that much rain is the exception, not the rule.


Post a Comment