By D. Mallen, for Let’s Talk Plants! August 2022.
Jeff Moore Presents Agaves: Species, Cultivars & Hybrids
Agave = Tequila?
No, not to an audience filled with succulent aficionados, nor to our July speaker, Jeff Moore, proprietor of Solana Succulents for over 30 years and co-author of Agaves: Species, Cultivars & Hybrids. Jeff gave the renowned Agave tequilana its due attention as the blue giant that will eventually yield you your alcoholic beverage, if you grow enough of them to distill and you wait around until they reach maturity.
He then moved on to the wide-ranging world of Agaves that he has captured in photos and described in depth and detail in his fifth book on succulents. With his co-author, Escondido grower Jeremy Spath, providing most of the distance shots showing the native habitat where the plants were originally found, Moore’s photos focus on close-ups of the Agaves’ exotic structure and appearance, supplemented by various pictures from additional photographers. Both the book and his slide show presentation at our meeting were eye-openers for gardeners who hadn’t previously realized what an extensive variety of Agaves there is, and how fortunate we are to live in a climate that welcomes these plants. The book also serves as a reference source for their successful cultivation and design placement.
Moore, himself, is particularly drawn to those with variegated leaves. He believes there may be more variegated varieties of Agaves than of any other species of plants. His absolute favorite varieties, though, seem to be the “toothed” Agaves, with spiky, curved borders of an accent color on each leaf. Many of these reveal the imprint of the previous leaf pressed into the one behind it, exposed as the leaves unfurl and spread out. I imagine there was probably a run on any of these that were in stock at his nursery after the stunning slides of these striking plants were displayed.
Some of the many others he highlighted in his program included A. shawii, a native of San Diego County, A. stricta, a fluffy-looking little narrow-leaved plant with a rounded shape, and A. vilmoriniana, commonly called the “octopus agave,” a low-water plant that grows well in San Diego County, reaching 3-4’ tall, 4-6’ wide, with a 10-15’ tall inflorescence at the end of its short life of 4-5 years. He also showed us some of the yet-unnamed hybrids that we can expect to see in future production.
The leaf-shapes and growth patterns are not the only aspects of Agaves that draw the attention of gardeners around the planet to these New World natives. As we often observe in Southern California, the once-in-a-lifetime bloom of most Agaves can be an astounding, if not merely beautiful, spike or panicle that rises abruptly. Some varieties’ leaves will also turn bright colors as the plant flowers.
Sad to say, most Agaves are monocarpic, meaning that they will die after they bloom, although some, such as the popular A. victoriae-reginae, can live 25 years or more before that final event occurs. Jeff Moore advises that, once the inflorescence starts, let it go. You can’t stop it. Usually, you will be comforted to find offsets of new plants starting from the base.
Moore recommends that we investigate the characteristics of each plant before selecting one to plant at home – which seems pretty advisable when we look at the attractively striped little A. lophantha, which he calls an “ankle dagger” in his book, or some other variety that may expect us to give it 10’ or more to spread out in our yard.
His presentation covered a huge amount of information and advice, augmented by numerous photos from the book, giving us at least an hour and a half of information in a one-hour program. The YouTube replay will undoubtedly be worth watching more than once, and Agaves: Species, Cultivars & Hybrids belongs on your bookshelf or coffee table as soon as you can get it.
Get the Agaves book and more here - https://www.solanasucculents.com/ Solana Succulents is located at 355 N. Hwy 101, Solana Beach, CA. 92075 Open Monday/Tuesday: By Appointment Wednesday - Saturday: 10am - 4pm Sunday: 12pm - 4pm Winter/Standard Time hours, close at 4pm (all days) (858) 259-4568