Agave at the office....


Funny to think there was a time when an agave blooming in Denver was front page news in the papers! Today I noticed a SIXTH agave sending up a stalk here at the Gardens: yes, I said sixth! I remember when the very first one bloomed here a few decades ago. We were all so excited and it seemed so miraculous. Now I notice agaves here and there around town in people's gardens, and I've seen several sending up stalks out and about as well.

Of course, with the Allan Houser exhibit there are whole new layers of meaning in agaves blooming: the Apache tribe in particular had such a strong predilection for harvesting agaves for food that one of their tribes (the Mescalero Apache) got their very name from the mescal, the common Spanish name of Agave in much of its range due to their dependence on agaves for food.

Most of us only sample agave through the distilled Tequila, which is only derived from a tender, Mexican species. Watching the terrible symmetry of the foliage is ample fare for many of us. But when the crown swells in April or May, and the stalk begins to shoot up like a gigantic asparagus, you would have to be a mugwump or an all out bona fide muggle not to be enchanted with the spectacle.  This time of year, now that the temperature is rising, you can practically watch the stems grow. Five or six inches a day is not impossible.

I shall give you a hint: there are three agaves budded up to bloom in one garden alone (in the southwest corner of the Gardens) including both Agave parryi and A. neomexicana.  Next door, Agave havardiana is sending up not one, but two stalks from a single colony. This is the first time it has deigned to bloom for us at the Gardens, although I did see a fine specimen bloom close to my home a few years ago.

I will not tell you where the last one is: that is my secret. One is by far the loftiest of all agaves at the Gardens!

One thing you can be sure of: a lot of us will be monitoring these awesome plants all summer long. What a delightful way that nature has of reminding us that sculpture was not invented by the ancient Greeks or Egyptians: nature has been sculpting from time immemorial. Agaves are some of her supreme expressions, don't you agree?

At the Gardens


Ellen Hertzman
You've thrown down a challenge, PK. I'll let you know when I've fund all six!
Can I give the sixth plant away? I was just there over the weekend and I saw the sixth agave bloom. I won't spoil it for other readers but I'll say I was surprised to see it blooming within a year of it being planted - it's in a garden that hasn't existed for much longer than that. I always assumed an agave plant was like a pineapple - the main stem would die but you'd soon see healthy young offshoots peeking out from under they dying leaves. (And if you think about it the same thing happens inside all sorts of plants from tulips to iris but you just don't realize the blooming stem terminates and dies because it's happening underground.) But I was surprised to notice a few of the plants sending up stems were already dying with no signs of re-growth from the base. For a plant native to the desert where re-seeding is no guarantee (I imagine a lot of wild desert animals would want to eat that tender stem) it's a bizarre evolutionary strategy. Anyway, I was speculating that maybe something about the climate in CO last year triggered this abnormal number of blooms. I can't remember anything particularly special about last year, whether it was wetter or drier or hotter than usual, but I have to speculate that these plants "decide" they're going to bloom at least a year in advance given their slow growth in contrast to the complex architecture of the inflorescence. Or maybe that extreme cold snap in January set them off?

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