Thursday, October 18, 2007

Psychopath (Agave victoriae-reginae)

Let me say first that "psychopath" is probably a bit strong for this particular species of Agave. It's the only Agave I personally own, and although it is pretty well-behaved, really, all things considered, its brethren where I work are pot-breaking, knife-waving maniacs.



Several weeks back, I was running around in the greenhouse, doing whatever it is that I usually do there, when I noticed a plant on the floor. It was an Agave americana in a clay pot, that had fallen. The pot was broken, and the roots were a little tight in there anyway, so I went ahead and moved it up to a slightly-bigger pot, all the while cursing out whatever oblivious customer had knocked it over, or let his/r kids knock it over. You know the kind of grumbling this would involve: Stupid customers don't even tell people when they knock shit over, just leave it for me to find as if it happened all by itself, shouldn't have those down so low to the ground anyway, some day some kid's going to come along and fall and lose an eye on one of those spines. . . .

And then, a couple weeks after that, it happened again. Similar deal, except that this happened like ten minutes before I was supposed to go home, so I didn't do the repotting on that one. But it, too, had a pretty compact root ball, and at some point when I was running it to the repotting room it hit me – the plants were the ones doing this, not the customers. Presumably the jumping off of the inverted pots we were using to display them better was the result of the movement created when the pots cracked, and the pots were cracking because the plants were terribly, terribly rootbound.

So, not only a psychopath, but a suicidal psychopath.

The Agaves and I coexisted peacefully for a while, and then I had to do some rearranging of a table full of 4-inch Agaves which had been packed too closely together. Every time I tried to reach in to pull one out, it seemed like, I got jabbed by a spine or caught on a hook of some kind. It was like they didn't realize that I had their pathetic little lives in my hands – no rain unless I say so, after all. Except – maybe they did know, and this was another suicide attempt.

Hmmm.

In any case. The one I have at home is much better behaved, though the photo here doesn't really do it justice. We have some that are the color of the one in the picture, and then others that are a much darker, bluish-green color and a little less densely-packed; mine at home is one of the darker ones. The blue-green is very striking against the white leaf edges.

Something you wouldn't know from looking at the picture is that the leaves actually have small backward-pointing hooks on them, so if you reach in to pick a chunk of perlite away with your fingers, you're likely to feel a slight jab when you try to pull your fingers back out again. It's worse if you're in a hurry. Like any good psychopath, Agaves are only reluctantly disarmed: you can cut off the spines at the end of the leaves, but the leaves remain pointy regardless, and it becomes a question of, would I like to be stabbed a quarter of an inch deep, or a half an inch deep?

You cannot, under any circumstances, overwater, and it absolutely, positively, has to have full sun indoors. Most everything else – neglect, dry air, wild swings in temperature – it can roll with just fine. They also don't propagate easily: the most common way is to separate offsets, and that's not hard to do, but they are very slow-growing plants that offset when they want to, not when you want them to, which means if you're having trouble with one, it's not usually going to be possible to grab an offset and try again.

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photo credit: Stan Shebs at Wikipedia entry for Agave


6 comments:

brianhebb said...

where can i buy a full grown agave v-r?

thanks

mr_subjunctive said...

What, I'm a personal shopper now? Call your local garden centers and ask them what they've got, what they might be able to order, etc. That said, full-grown slow-growing plants aren't just falling off trucks: be prepared to be disappointed and/or poorer.

Alternately, you could buy a small one and wait.

Anonymous said...

Any potter can tell you that occasionally ceramic pots junp off shelves all by themselves. So perhaps your jumping agaves were actually victims. ''If I have to go, I'm taking someone with me!"

Don

Chad said...

I got mine at the Santa Barbara botanical garden near the mission for a mere 10 dollars. And it had two offshoots on it. When I transplanted, I broke one off to become a gift for a friend, but the poor little thing caught scale and won't be recovering, sadly.

anon in Canada said...

When you say "you absolutely cannot overwater" do you mean "absolutely do not overwater" or "it is not possible to overwater as they love as much water as they can get"?

mr_subjunctive said...

anon in Canada:

I mean under no circumstances should you overwater.