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Plant Highlight: Agave bracteosa

July 2009

Most species of Agave have thick leaves armed with teeth along the edges and tipped with a sharp spike, but Agave bracteosa is a non-conformist with its pliable unarmed green leaves.  Its rosettes of narrow arching leaves do not get large, attaining a diameter of perhaps 2 feet (60 cm), but it produces offsets to form a clump.  Those who have not encountered it before are usually surprised to learn that it is a type of Agave.

Like many Agave species, A. bracteosa flowers in summer, with the flowering shoots emerging surprisingly rapidly.  The inflorescence, which rises to a height of about 5 to 6 feet (a little less than 2 meters), does not have side-branches, but it is very densely flowered.  The flowers are rather small, about an inch long (2½ cm) and are white to yellowish-white in color, with spreading petals.  The long slender stamens and pistils extend far beyond the petal tips.

A. bracteosa is native to northeastern Mexico, and it occurs in steep rocky areas and on cliffs in the mountains near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and Saltillo, Coahuila. This area is also home to Agave victoriae-reginae, and the two sometimes grow near to each other.  A. bracteosa makes an excellent garden subject, and it can be grown in sun or part-shade provided it has good drainage.  It does not need winter protection in our area, having endured lows of 20°F (-7°C) without injury.