Tag Archives: Agave attenuata

a cliché i happen to like

How can you pick out a Californian from within a brig crowd? Just wait for a rainy day and see which one heads for the door to look at the amazing stuff falling from the sky. We don’t see much of the stuff, especially over our dry summers. This past weekend was moist, one of only two periods of rain over the last four months. So there was this Californian, outdoors with camera in hand.

Pictures of raindrops on leaves are pretty common, over in cliché territory, almost as common as photos of raindrops on roses, but there’s something satisfying about making more, particularly if you live somewhere rain can be pretty rare. Here are some quick photos from the garden.

The first few are of raindrops on Agave attenuata.

This one displays the nice out of focus bare green stems of Galvezia juncea in the background–probably more interesting than the wet leaf. Photo geeks call the phenomenon of out of focusedness “bokeh,” mostly used to refer to the shapes of bright spots in the blur. Lens reviewers drool over bokeh spots that are more circular than those that are irregularly-shaped like bladed lens apertures. Bokeh is a pretty unusual word so I had to go running to Wikipedia, where it pointed to “the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality”. The Japanese term boke is also used in the sense of a mental haze or senility.”

And now a few on tree aloe, Aloe arborescens. It’s kinduv a scary-looking plant, dontcha think? But really cool, subtle, warm colors in addition to the green…

And I’m sure you’ve never seen photos of raindrops on spiderwebs (insert snarky smiley) so here’s one.

And one final drops on spiderweb photo, this one in front of California matchweed, Gutierriezia californica, with nice little yellow bokeh circles from the out of focus flowers.

plants as compass (february bloom day)

I was looking at my blooming Agave attenuata and noticed something for the first time. The flowers on its spike have been opening asymmetrically, with the south-facing buds opening a few days earlier than the ones on the shaded side. I guess it’s the agave equivalent of moss growing on the shaded north side of a tree trunk. As I looked at all the agaves in the neighborhood, I was noticing the same thing: All the south-facing buds open first. It makes sense, I guess, with the sun-warmed buds developing sooner than the ones growing in the shade. There must be a botanical term for this–I’ll see if I can’t look it up sometime.

Something else I noticed the other week was that two of the little rosettes growing underneath the growth producing the big spike are also blooming. They’re nice, but the blooms get pretty lost in the foliage.

And compared to the big main spike, which must be something like twelve or more feet from base to tip, you can see how it’d be easy to overlook the little pups…

In the photo above you can make out this big red aloe in the background, Aloe arborescens. The clump began as a one-gallon plant in the early nineties. Now it’s probably six feet tall and twelve across.

February in Southern California is a busy month for flowering plants. Here’s a selection of what else is blooming in the garden.

This raised planter of Oxalis purpurea is the first part of the garden that visitors encounter as they head up the front steps. Dozens of white flowers and a lone pink one in the front. Oops.

Verbena lilacina, greened up from the rains, beginning to hit its stride.

One of several plants of Nuttall's milkvetch, Astragalus nuttallii, that I raised from seed last summer.

Snapdragon-relative Galvezia speciosa 'Firecracker,' never a prolific bloomer for me, though mine's a young plant.

The pink-flowered, purple-leaved form of Oxalis purpurea.

Carpenteria californica, a California plant that reminds me a lot of sasanqua camellias in its simple contrast of stamens against broad petals.

First flowers on Phlomis monocephala.

February flowers on a yellow crassula that I've forgotten the name of...

The final blooms of the season on another crassula, your basic jade plant, Crassula ovata...

The fragrant Solanum parishii, a widespread California native, doing battle on the slope garden against iceplant, Algerian ivy and Bermuda buttercup.

Freeway daisies (Osteospermun) below, with black sage (Salvia mellifera, prostrate form) above.

Keeping up the daisy theme, Arctotis acaulis hybrid...

Another actotis, 'Big Magneta'...

...and a final photo, a final arctotis, shown against a piece of garden art made from glass, steel, and concrete.

As always, my thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Even with snow on the ground many places up north, there’s still plenty in bloom today in warmer, more southern locations, and on windowsills and greenhouses around the world. Check them out [ here ].

agave update

We interrupt our series on the gardens at the Huntington Library with this quick update on the progress of the bloom spike of my Agave attenuata.

At this point there flowers have opened on about three feet of the spike. The lowest ones are beginning to wither.

So far the blooms are proving to be extremely popular with the honeybees. (Notice the bee on the flower and ignore the bright red car in the background. Thank you.)

In this last image you can even see the pollen that the bee has attached to its back legs for transport back to the hive.

Thanks for your patience. With the next post we return to the gardens at the Huntington…

Previous posts on this plant:
One agave, eight ways (December Bloom Day)
When plants collide

one agave, eight ways (december bloom day)

Agave attenuata spike emerging from plant

Agave attenuata spike middle range

For December 15’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I’m trying something new. Instead of showing you all the almost ever-blooming things in the garden I’m highlighting a single plant, the foxtail agave (Agave attenuata) that’s finally blooming after a decade and a half in the ground. I posted before on how the monster bloom spike has collided with some some nearby plants. Over the weekend the thousands of buds on the spike began to open.

Agave attenuata spike with flowers emerging from plant

Agave attenuata stalk as seen from below

In homage to artists who take one subject and try to make it interesting in multiple ways, here are some of the first photos of the plant in bloom. I’m not sure which is my favorite photo so far. Maybe the fourth? Maybe the fifth?

Still, it’s hard to begin to do justice to an awesome plant.

Agave attenuata colliding with Aloe beharensis 2

Agave attenuata flowers closeup 2

Agave attenuata flowers and buds

Agave attenuata flowers closeup

Sphaeralcea ambigua

Eriogonum arborescens new flowers closeup

A few other things are blooming, but it’s December and the pickings are slim: a couple of California natives, some late-season blooms on Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens) and first-of-the-season blooms on the desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

Oxalis purpurea before opening

Oxalis purpurea, early in the morning, before it’s fully expanded…

Leonotis leonurus

Leonotis leonorus coming back into bloom…

Senecio cylindricus flowers

Senecia articulata flowers

Senecio mandraliscae in bloom

When so little is in flower, you might pay attention to some of the less significant flowers on plants that are grown primarily for their foliage and structure. These three senecio species would only win “nice personality” in a floral beauty pageant (Senecio cylindricus, S. articulatus, S. mandraliscae).

In fact, the agave I showed earlier is a plant that’s most often used for its terrific architectural structure, in part because it flowers so infrequently. But when that one blooms, there’s no ignoring it.

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day!

when plants collide

Agave attenuata colliding with tree aloes

Fifteen years I’ve been waiting for this plant to bloom. Fifteen years. And now that it’s blooming it throws its big bloom stalk into a tangle of two tree aloes growing together in what’s now a big three-plant smashup.

The flowering plant is Agave attenuata, the foxtail agave. Native to higher elevations in Mexico, it’s supposedly fairly rare where it originates. But in zone 10 and 9b-plus Southern California gardens it’s fairly common, with several gardens in every block of my neighborhood having one or more plants.

Many agaves, including the local native Shaw’s agave, Agave shawii, come armed with attractive but sharp spines. But A. attenuata is as soft and friendly a succulent as you’ll ever meet, and that’s one of its big appeals for home gardens. Another bonus is that it requires no supplemental watering in gardens near the coast.

Almost all of the agave species will bloom once and then die (monocarpy). Fortunately one plant of this species will have many rosettes, with only the blooming rosette dying back, leaving the rest to bloom in future seasons.

Agave attenuata with maturing bloom spike

At this point the stalk is taller than I am and is starting to grow downward in a thick arc.

Agave attenuata flower stalk with buds

The individual blooms are still closed up for business. Soon, though, the individual greenish white flowers will open up a few at a time, beginning at the base of the inflorescence and then slowly moving towards the end.

Agave attenuata at the neighbors

Here’s a plant at a neighbor’s house in full bloom last winter so that you can see what the agave does when it isn’t busy running into other plants. Very graceful, don’t you think?

I wish the flowering stem hadn’t collided with the aloes. The stalk is assertive and solid so that there’s no staking it or coaxing it out of harm’s way. Oh well. I can sit back and enjoy the flowering, even if the flowers aren’t in the place where I’d like them.

Anything that you have to wait fifteen years for it to bloom isn’t going to be the most convenient of species.