Agave attenuata

fox-tail agave


Agave attenuata

Salm-Dyck 1834

pronounced: uh-GAH-vee at-ten-yew-AH-tuh

(Asparagaceae — the asparagus family)

common names: fox-tail agave, lion'stail agave, swan's neck agave

Agave is from the Greek αγαυος (agauos), noble, handsome; attenuata is from the Latin attenuatus, weak, meagre, reduced. This refers to the fact that this is one of the few Agaves that is not armed with at least a spike on the end of each leaf.

The curved flower spike is also unusual in the genus, and this plant makes a firm statement in any garden. The one pictured is in the garden of one of the houses in the Dunoon development.

Agave attenuata is a succulent, originating from the plateau of central Mexico, that produces tight rosettes of smooth grey-green fleshy leaves with no terminal leaf spike. These leaves are ovate-acuminate, 50–70 cm in length and 12–16 cm in breadth. The plant develops a thick, woody stem. Once it is mature, which may take as long as 10 years, it produces over spring and summer a striking long arching flower spike that is densely covered with creamy-white flowers. Pups are produced freely from the bottom of the leaf clumps. Removing and re-planting the pups is the best way to propagate the plant, but it may also be grown from seed. The seeds germinate readily when they are fresh.

Although Agave attenuata survives in poor soils, it does best when planted in rich soils. The plant is extremely drought-tolerant, but does better with ample moisture. It grows well in full sun, but maximum growth occurs when it is grown in morning sun and afternoon shade, or in dappled shade. It also is an excellent house plant, lacking as it does not only the terminal leaf spike, but also the sharp teeth that many of the genus have along the edges of the leaves.

The original specimens of the plant to reach Europe were sent to Kew Gardens, London, in 1834 by the French-born Belgian explorer Henri-Guillaume Galeotti (1814–1858), who became Director of the Botanic Garden in Bruxelles. He reported that they were gathered in central Mexico, but did not record exactly where he had found them. More recent studies have reported the plant from Jalisco, in central western Mexico, to Mexico State itself, but only in small colonies at elevations of 1900–2500 m. There have been only a few sightings, suggesting that this Agave is rare in the wild.

Photographs taken 2009-2016, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 1st October 2018