Rescuing an Agave

I found this Agave (ah GAH vay) tossed into some shrubs near my apartment. I’m planning to plant it in a pot, and I’m confident that it will grow there. It already has a fleshy root with rootlets. Even though they are desiccated, water will revive the plant.

This isn’t the first plant that I’ve rescued. More on this later.

Two Agave pups that have since died

These two Agaves were from bulbils that had been attached to the mother plant. Natural clones of plants such as these are called pups.

The bulbils of these two Agaves had fallen to the ground, and that’s where I found them. The mother plant has since been cut down. Any way that you look at it, this was a plant rescue.

Unfortunately, these two Agaves have died. I may not have given them enough water during the summer.

My desert rescue garden

I have a patio garden in the back and three plants near the entrance to my apartment.

Only one of my plants is not a desert plant. The others are cactuses or succulents.

I grew my saguaros (SWAH rohz) from seed, but otherwise I rescued everything else.

These first pictures are of my three small saguaros. These are about 18 years old. The size of the pots limits their growth. In nature, they grow up to twenty feet tall when mature.

On the right you’re looking at a Buckhorn Cholla (CHOE yah). I found it uprooted by a sidewalk. There was no disturbance of soil to indicate that it had simply toppled over. I left it where it was and only took it the next day. No one else was likely to retrieve it at that point. The plant on the left is a Firestick. Neighbors were pruning theirs and would have thrown away the branches. Two more branches took root, but they died during this past brutal, record-setting summer. The branches turn red, hence the name Firestick.

These two Agaves (ah GAH vayz) were bulbils hanging from a flower stalk. Bulbils fall off, and some lucky ones take root. The mother plant was growing near my patio. Landscapers have since removed the mature plant since it only flowers once, when it’s a couple dozen years old. Agaves are commonly called Century Plants. People claimed that they flowered only when they were 100 years old, a myth. They were probably called Sentry Plants. The tall, upright flower stalks — taller than a person — seemed as though they were standing guard. People heard ‘sentry’ and thought that the word was ‘century’, giving birth to its common name. See earlier posts about Agaves.

This next picture is of a barrel cactus. The Compass Barrel cactus is named Ferocactus cylindraceus. Ferocactus wislizeni, Fishhook Barrel cactus, looks the same to me. My sister found this cactus growing next to a wall on her property. It wasn’t a good place for it, so she had me take it home to be potted. This was about a year and a half ago. It would seem to have sprouted from seed.

The following cactus is a Beavertail Prickly Pear. Young prickles on the pads feel like fuzz and don’t penetrate the skin. This is not the case with the better known Prickly Pear (next). I’ve never seen fruits on a Beavertail. This one probably grew from seed. It was growing alongside a wall next to my parking lot — no place for any plant. Birds figure into seeding new plants. They eat fruits, seeds fail to digest, and come out in droppings. So where do you find bird droppings? Where the birds perch, such as on a wall or fence. If I hadn’t rescued this plant, landscapers would have discarded it if they noticed it.

I found a small detached pad from a Prickly Pear alongside its mother plant near my front yard. It would have also been discarded by landscapers if I hadn’t rescued it. I soaked it in water, and roots began to grow. I tucked the pad into soil, it took, and you see its new growth. It may not be able to grown larger in this small pot. We’ll see. Notice its vicious thorns.

I don’t know the identity of the following two plants. Both are succulents and are also growing near my front door. I believe that I water these too much. I may be killing the first one.

This Red Cedar stands out. Of the plants that I have, this is the only one that doesn’t belong in Phoenix’s climate. The realtor who sold us the condo gave it to us as a rooted slip. It was about four inches tall.

So now let me sit on the patio and sip a cup of hot tea with sugar. When summer comes, it might be iced tea.

An Agave plant reaches the end of its life

I just noticed that this Agave has just toppled over. I had posted a picture of it from late spring when it was flowering (the fourth photo). From what I’ve read in Wikipedia, an Agave flowers when it is 10-30 years old. Then it dies.

You’ll see that this one’s core is rotted out, so the plant broke away from its root –

September 2, 2020

Its seed capsules are still green –

This is a picture of the same plant when it was blooming about three months ago –

Late spring 2020

On another morning walk, I came across this uprooted Agave. The core is still attached to the roots. I don’t know what knocked it over. No animal around here would bother an Agave. Perhaps a car knocked it over. Just perhaps, it flowered and its flower stalk toppled the plant. Someone would have had to remove the long stalk, but landscapers haven’t remove the dying plant. (I’m not saying that the homeowner has a landscaping service. If not, the owner hasn’t had it carted away.) If it’s still possible to replant it, no one has tried either –

An Agave meets its end

Previously I wrote about the nature of Agaves to blossom when they are fully mature. Then they die. I haven’t lived in Phoenix, Arizona, long enough to observe an Agave send up its enormous flower spike and then die.

During one of my morning walks, I came across an uprooted Agave and one whose center is rotting away. I don’t know why it’s uprooted. What comes to mind is that it sent up a flower stalk and then tipped over. Owners of the property most likely cut off the spike but didn’t try to replant this Agave.

So I wonder if this first Agave is dying because it flowered or because its tall spike tipped it over.

Unless my observations continue long enough, I’ll take common wisdom at face value. Agaves flower then die.

I reposted these photos with in the next post.

An Agave without seeds

This Agave has grown bulbils from its flower stalk after the flowers were spent. I don’t know how long these bulbils have been on the plant, though. This is to say, I don’t know how long since the plant flowered.

The bulbils are fully formed plants, just lacking roots. If they fall off and land in a favorable place, they will grow roots and establish themselves.

Who knows how many new plants will successfully establish themselves from these dozens of bulbils.

Folklore calls some Agaves the “Century Plant” with the erroneous belief that they flower after they’ve been growing for a century. The truth is that they flower just one time when they are fully mature – before they’ve reached the age of twenty-five or so.

I believe that they were called the “Sentry Plant” for their tall, prominent flower spikes. ‘Sentry’ was easily heard as ‘century’ after its flowering habit. So there you have it. Mull it over with a cup of hot tea with sugar.

I potted two bulbils for my patio desert garden:

This picture shows what the bulbils look like:

It’s hard for me to say which species and which variety this is.

Agaves and Yuccas in flower

Late May and early June in Phoenix, Arizona

This Agave was blooming in late May. Agaves are succulents and not cactuses:


This is a closeup of the buds and flowers. These are not showy flowers like some other Agaves. You can see some bees or flies that are attracted to the flowers:



I mistakenly though that these pictures below are Agaves. They are Soaptree Yuccas. I also need to reconsider whether the flower stalks are actually from this season.

In early June, the blooms on some of these Yuccas are spent (Yuccas in the background), while others are in bloom. Some of these Soaptree Yuccas were already flowering in late April. There is a staggered season:

Early June

This Soaptree Yucca is still in bloom on June 8th:


A closeup of the flowers:

These look like Soaptree Yuccas, and they were flowering on May 10th: