June 2005 Plant Highlight: Agave chrysoglossa

by Brian Kemble

Image of Agave chrysoglossa

Originating in the arid coastal regions of the state of Sonora in northwestern Mexico, Agave chrysoglossa makes a stunning show when in flower. The species name means “golden tongue” and is an obvious reference to the tall inflorescence packed with golden-yellow flowers. In this respect it resembles its close relative Agave vilmoriniana, although the two species have very different leaves. While both species lack teeth on the leaf-margins, A. chrysoglossa has stiff, straight sword-like leaves of a green color, while A. vilmoriniana has softer, gracefully-arching leaves which frequently have a glaucous cast. Another difference is that A. vilmoriniana normally produces prodigious quantities of bulbils along the inflorescence after flowering, while A. chrysoglossa does not. Neither one usually produces offsets. This means that A. vilmoriniana is much more frequently seen in cultivation, since its bulbils offer a ready means of propagating it, while A. chrysoglossa must be started anew from seed with each generation.

Howard Gentry, author of Agaves of Continental North America, notes that there is one area along the Rio Mayo in south-central Sonora where the two species meet and form intergrades, but in general A. chrysoglossa is a coastal species (occurring only in Sonora), while A. vilmoriniana is an inland plant usually found on cliffs and ranging much farther south (down as far as the vicinity of Guadalajara). Both are highly recommended as garden ornamentals in areas that do not experience temperatures below the upper twenties Fahrenheit (-4ยบ Centigrade).

  Image of A. chrysoglossa stalk   Image of A. chrysoglossa flower  
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