Agave parryi

Agave parryi

Agave parryi

Agave parryi is quite variable, some forms or varieties an ethereal blue-gray, others a silvery gray-green, some with leaves that are broad and rather blunt on top, others with narrower and more elongated leaves.  But all are elegantly symmetrical, and all bear leaves with distinctive dark brown to maroon to almost black marginal teeth and an equally dark, viciously sharp terminal spine.

Agave parryi grows fairly slowly to about two to three feet tall and wide, and most spread by offshoots or “pups.”  As the plant grows the leaves open from a tightly packed central core, and on the back of each leaf is the delicate tracery of overlapping leaves that spread out before it.  Plants bloom only once and then die, reportedly after twenty years or so.  Flowers are borne on a central stalk up to fifteen feet tall, and are vegetative magnets for hummingbirds.

Agave parryi leaf detail

Agave parryi leaf detail

I grew this agave many years ago in southern California, where it flourished and multiplied, reliably sending out offshoots until a fairly sizable colony had formed.  From this colony I recently brought a few north to the San Francisco Bay Area, a quite different climate, but one that seems to have satisfied this adaptable succulent, at least so far.  Agave parryi is native to high deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico, so it should not be bothered by even our most prolonged winter frosts.  To help them withstand our sometimes drenching winter rains, I set them out in large, shallow pots in commercial “cactus mix” for fast drainage.

Agave parryi is best planted where it will receive full sun a good portion of the day except in hot interior climates, where a bit of afternoon shade seems to be appreciated.  This is a care-free plant, requiring no maintenance and little to no summer water once established.  Plants will naturalize if given space and time.

Dasylirion

Dasylirion wheeleri in succulent border with barrel cactus.

Dasylirion wheeleri in succulent border with barrel cactus in foreground

A boldly architectural plant for big drama in pots or in the ground, Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon or sotol) forms a dense, symmetrical rosette of long, narrow, silvery blue-green, somewhat twisted leaves with aggressively hooked teeth along the margins and attractively frayed straw-colored tips.  Over time plants develop a short, stout trunk, which may not be noticed unless older brown leaves are removed.

Native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, Dasylirion wheeleri is rather widely available in the trade.  Several other dasylirions are available with a little hunting about, including D. texanum (Texas sotol), with paler green leaves that are not twisted, D. leiophyllum (smooth sotol), with glossy green leaves and, despite its common name, equally wicked spines, and D. longissimum (Mexican grass tree), with gray-green leaves that lack the fearsome spines and, after many years, a substantial tree-like trunk.

Dasylirion wheeleri grows moderately fast, but can be held to a large container for quite some time.  Mine were installed as decent sized five-gallon plants in thirty-six-gallon pots six or seven years ago.  They are now six feet wide and four feet tall, spilling out in all directions.

Dasylirion wheeleri spines

Dasylirion wheeleri spines

Because of the sharp spines, which catch and hold onto skin or clothing when they are so much as gently brushed or touched, all dasylirions except the smooth-margined Dasylirion longissimum are almost impossible to comfortably work around.  They should be placed away from paths likely to be traveled by the unwary and spread far apart if more than one is planted in the ground.  Pulling weeds, removing fallen tree leaves, or attempting to cut off dead leaves at the base are hellacious tasks, with outcomes ranging from snagged clothing to bloodied body parts.  It’s best to locate these plants where no maintenance will be required.

Dasylirions flower on spikes that arise from the center of the rosette, reaching ten feet or more above the foliage by early summer.  Flower stalks appear only once every few years, but, unlike the agaves, the plants do not die after flowering.  For some reason, my plants have yet to flower.  Perhaps they are not sufficiently mature.  Maybe it’s the afternoon shade (they are said to resent shade).  Or possibly it’s the constraints of growing in containers.  I can wait.  Flowers are just a bonus on plants as spectacular as this.