Agaves comprise just over 200 species of succulent plants native to the New World, from the south-western U.S. to northern South America. They are characterized by a rosette of fleshy, stiff leaves capable of withstanding severe heat and drought. Over time, the common name Century Plant has been attached to the genus on the claim that flowering occurs just once in a hundred years. However, the truth is that most species produce a once-in-a-lifetime bloom after 12-20 years. The flower stalk can be quite tall and bear plantlets which root out upon falling to the ground. The plants can also reproduce via basal shoots or suckers, as well as by seeding.
Agaves are as well-known for their commercial uses as for their ornamental beauty. For instance, Agave sisalana has long been the source of fibers used to make doormats, rope and twine. The species is now grown commercially in many tropical countries, and Brazil has become the leader in sisal production. Another species. A. tequilana, is, as the name suggests, the source of the wallop in tequila.
We have several interesting agave species at the nursery. One of the special ones is A. desmettiana ‘Variegata,’ the Dwarf Variegated Agave, native to Mexico. This stately species, defined by yellow leaf margins, grows slowly to dimensions of 30-36 inches tall and wide before hoisting an inflores- cence of pale yellow flowers. It can be utilized in the landscape in several ways. It is striking planted out in a desert-type setting and shows off well when situated among decorative stones. But it can also be used to great advantage as a containerized plant. Such an application has been made with great aesthetic appeal at the Shops of Merrick Place in Coral Gables, where specimens have been planted in large clay saucers affixed to open-air stairways around the complex. Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries A. desmettiana ‘Variegata’ in 3-gallon containers.