Plant Collector: Agave attenuata

Agave attenuata growing in the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens

Agave attenuata growing in the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens

I photographed this at Auckland Botanic Gardens because it was such a fine looking clump and not at all like our specimens here. This agave is Mexican so is always going to be happier with brilliant drainage, dry conditions and considerable heat. Our conditions are less than perfect so the plants tend to rot, fall over and resprout. We need to relocate them to an open, sunny, hillside and allow them space without other plants around them.

While now rare in the natural habitat, this is a very popular agave in cultivation partly because it lacks the vicious spines and needle-like tips of so many other members of that family. I assume the “attenuata” refers to the slender, tapering flower spike which starts more or less vertical before acquiring a tilt like a swan’s head, then pointing downwards to the ground from whence, according to the photos, it can then head upwards again. Ours have never flowered, so I have not seen this curious phenomenon in person.

Readers in frosty areas will probably only succeed with A. attenuata in pots and even then, they will need to be brought under some cover in winter. Even without flowers, the clumping, fleshy rosettes of foliage are attractive. Like many succulents, the plant increases by setting pups to the side.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.