Agave gypsophila

gypsum century plant


Agave gypsophila

Gentry 1982

pronounced: uh-GAH-vee jip-SOFF-ill-uh

(Asparagaceae — the asparagus family)

common name: gypsum century plant

Agave is from the Greek αγαυος (agauos), noble, handsome, referring to the stature and general appearance of the flowers.

is from γυψος (gypsos), gypsum, chalk, and φιλος (philos), loving, referring to the lime-loving nature of most species.

The rippled, arching, shark-toothed leaves of this Mexican native set it apart from the other agaves. In its native state it grows on gypsum-rich hillside soils. It is a drought-tolerant plant which has blue-grey foliage when grown in full sun.

Young emerging pale grey-green leaves form a tube-like shape before expanding out and turning wavier and more blue-grey as they develop. The brittle leaves are up to about 60 cm long, with a characteristic twisted, undulate appearance, and curve down at their tips. The leaf margins have irregular warty teeth, each bearing a small thorn. The rosette of leaves is usually no more than a metre high and 2 m in diameter. When grown in shade, or given more water and nutrients than it gets in its native state, the plant wll have more green to the leaves, and will also grow more rapidly. In the humid tropics the leaves become more succulent, and arch closer to the ground. In hign rainfall areas, good drainage is essential.

The inflorescence, occurring infrequently, is a 3 m flower stalk branching towards its tip, bearing clusters of long tubular orange-yellow flowers. In most cases, the plant will die after flowering, but pups are produced alongside to replace the plant. Some of these pups may be removed and potted up.

This agave has become a favourite among designers creating xerophytic landscapes, mostly used alone as a statement plant. It should be placed where the spines do not present a nuisance to passers-by, unless it is desired to use a collection of the plants as an anti-intruder device. The plant looks well in containers on balconies, patios, and decks.

Agaves were very uselful plants to the natives of Mexico and norther South America. William H. Prescott wrote, in History of the Conquest of Mexico and the Conquest of Peru (1843):

But the miracle of nature was the great Mexican aloe, or maguey, whose clustering pyramids of flowers, towering above their dark coronals of leaves, were seen sprinkled over many a broad acre of the table-land. As we have already noticed its bruised leaves afforded a paste from which paper was manufactured, its juice was fermented into an intoxicating beverage, pulque, of which the natives, to this day, are extremely fond; its leaves further supplied an impenetrable thatch for the more humble dwellings; thread, of which coarse stuffs were made, and strong cords, were drawn from its tough and twisted fibers; pins and needles were made from the thorns at the extremity of its leaves; and the root, when properly cooked, was converted into a palatable and nutritious food. The agave, in short, was meat, drink, clothing, and writing materials for the Aztec! Surely, never did Nature enclose in so compact a form so many of the elements of human comfort and civilization!

Photographs taken in Nelly Bay, 2015
Page last updated 1st October 2018