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Plant Highlight: Agave colorata

April 2005

Agave colorata is a compact species native to the state of Sonora in northwest Mexico. The rosette of leaves can reach a size of 4 feet or more across, but are often smaller. There are fewer leaves in a rosette compared to most other Agave species, but these are a beautiful bluish color and are adorned with decorative teeth on the margins. Plants in nature often have striking bands running across the leaves, created by the alternation of zones with a pallid blue-gray coating and darker zones. However, this banding is seldom encountered on plants in cultivation. The species typically sends out a modest number of offsets at the base, making it easy to propagate, but it does not sucker prolifically and form a large clump, as some of the take-over species are inclined to do. The inflorescence is modest by Agave standards, attaining a height of only 5 to 9 feet (up to 3 meters), and tends to bend horizontally at the tip. It has short lateral branches ending in clusters of yellow flowers, which are frequently red-tipped at the bud stage.

A. colorata is not a widespread species, growing in only a modest number of colonies in rocky places in Sonora. At the north end of its range, near Guaymas, it occurs on small coastal hills. In southern Sonora, it is found a little farther inland, but never at high altitudes. Happily, it is able to tolerate temperatures much lower than those which are encountered in its native area. At The Ruth Bancroft Garden, it survived a severe cold spell with temperatures dropping to as low as 19ºF (-8º C). It is a beautiful garden subject, needing only a sunny spot with excellent drainage to do well. Its flowers appear in late March or April.