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Plant Highlight: Agave parrasana

August 2009

 Agave parrasana is a beautiful species native to several mountain ranges in the state of Coahuila in north-central Mexico.  Its habitats are remote, and perhaps this is why it is not often seen in cultivation despite its tolerance of freezing temperatures and its attractive compact heads of blue-green leaves.  It typically puts out a modest number of offsets, but does not sucker prolifically like some other agaves.

Like other agave species, A. parrasana is monocarpic.  This means that each rosette of leaves flowers and produces seed only once at the end of its life cycle.  Patience is required to witness its flowering, since plants often take 20 years or more to reach maturity.  This species has the unusual habit of beginning to put out a flowering stalk in summer, then halting in the fall with the stalk part-way up, leaving a clump of thick bracts clustered at the tip to protect the developing flowers.  After waiting out the winter, which can be quite cold in its mountain home, it resumes growth in spring.  Floral branches emerge as the stalk lengthens, each ending in a cluster of red-tinged flowers which turn yellow as they open.  The inflorescence normally attains a height of about 8 to 12 feet, not tall for an agave, but it is quite stout at its base.  The flowering finishes nearly a year after the process began.