It doesn’t matter whether you live in a dry area that requires a desert garden (xeriscaping) or in a location that gets plenty of rain. Agaves are for everyone: they’re among the hardiest plants out there, having evolved to thrive in extremely inhospitable habitats.
There are many different Agave types out there and it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve tried. Keep reading for a list of 7 amazing Agave types for your desert garden!
Agave americana (century plant)
Also known as the century plant, Agave americana is the ubiquitous Agave that you’re sure to have seen in (botanical) gardens. Although it was originally only found in Mexico and some southern states of the US, the plant has spread in gardens throughout the world and has become naturalized in many locations.
Like most Agaves, this species is pretty hardy and can withstand almost anything nature throws at it. Even full sun is usually no problem, nor is some frost during wintertime as long as the soil is kept dry.
Agave americana ‘Marginata’, the lovely variegated version of the century plant, is especially popular for horticultural use. Do remember to remove the sharp spine on the end of this Agave’s leaves if you have children or pets, since coming into contact with it is not pleasant.
Agave attenuata (foxtail Agave)
Probably the most elegant of the Agaves, the foxtail Agave’s lovely rosette shape makes it a popular gardening choice. The specimens that grow on a stem look especially nice and almost resemble a sort of succulent tree. Agave attenuata lacks the sometimes nasty spines that many Agaves can feature.
Plant Agave attenuata in a sunny spot in your garden. You can place this one directly in the ground, preferably grouping multiple plants together to make for a bushy look. Alternatively, and especially if you get more than mild frosts in your area, you can grow your foxtail Agave in a container.
Water this plant thoroughly on at least a weekly basis during the warm summer months. During wintertime it’ll go dormant and need way less, sometimes as little as once a month.
Agave parryi (Parry’s Agave)
Parry’s Agave is a decorative species appreciate for its pale green-grey leaf coloration and thick, compact leaves. We’ll forgive the spines since it’s such a nice looking plant. The species is naturally found in Northern Mexico and some areas of the Southern US, such as New Mexico and Arizona.
Due to its rosette shape and compact growth pattern, Agave parryi is sometimes referred to as the artichoke Agave. Although this Agave type stays smaller than some others, it can still grow up to 2 ft. tall, so you’ll need to find it a space where it can grow.
Plant your Agave parryi in well-draining soil, either in a container or directly in the ground.
Agave angustifolia (Caribbean Agave)
Now this is an unusual Agave! The Caribbean Agave almost resembles a Yucca. Healthy plants, with their plentiful slender and spiked leaves, almost look like a menacing spikey orb. The species has been selectively cultivated to produce a few different variegated versions, like ‘Candy Stripe’, ‘Marginata’ and the spectacular ‘Woodrowii’.
Agave angustifolia is naturally found in Mexico and other parts of Central America. It’s one of the Agave species naturally used to produce mezcal, a distilled alcoholic beverage.
This slow grower is not difficult to care for in the garden. In fact, most Agaves probably succumb to being cared for too much rather than too little, with concerned gardeners overdoing it on the watering.
Agave murpheyi (Murphey’s Agave)
Although it’s somewhat common in horticulture, the Murphey’s Agave is rare in nature, only occurring in a few particular locations. With a leaf size of up to 2.5 ft. it’s a medium sized Agave, featuring narrow leaves that bear spikes on both the sides and the tip.
Agave murpheyi naturally has the typical greyish green leaves of many Agaves, although it can also be found in a variegated form. It makes a great addition to your desert garden, not just because of its decorative looks but also because it’s so hardy. It can take full sun with no issues and is forgiving of beginner mistakes and the occasional forgotten watering.
Interestingly, Agave murpheyi was cultivated by Native Americans for its fiber as well as its edible core, which is reportedly delicious when extracted at the right moment and prepared correctly.
Agave bracteosa (squid Agave)
For those of us out there who love weird plants, there is Agave bracteosa. Also appropriately referred to as the squid Agave or even spider Agave, it can easily be recognized from its growth pattern. Instead of sending out very sturdy leaves in a neat rosette shape, this variety’s leaves are softer and curly, sometimes sticking in all different directions. It actually looks more like a Bromeliad than an Agave!
Naturally found in Mexico, Agave bracteosa is perfect for those who want to avoid plants with painful spines. Additionally, it’s definitely one of the smaller species, making it a good choice to grow on balconies and other spaces that wouldn’t be able to house other Agaves.
Despite its softer leaves, the squid Agave is still very hardy. It can handle up to medium frosts as long as it’s kept dry and can be grown in both sun or partial shade.
Did you know? Agaves are monocarpic and bloom only once in their lifetime. Their inflorescence is many times taller than the actual plant and quite a sight to see! The bad news is that the mother plant will die off once it finishes flowering; the good news is that it will almost always produce plenty of offsets to continue the cycle.
Agave pelona (mescal pelón)
We’re saving the best for last here. Agave pelona might have the silliest name of them all (‘pelón’ means ‘bald one’) but it’s also arguably the most spectacular plant on this list. It’s only found in a very small natural range but has become coveted in horticulture due to its reddish tinged foliage. It’s one of the Agave types used to make mezcal but I’d personally prefer keeping it intact and saving it for xeriscaping!
Agave pelona is a slow grower but it can reach a maximum size of around 3 ft., forming a sturdy rosette with spines poking outward. It can be a bit fussier than other Agaves and it’s unfortunately also generally quite hard to find because it doesn’t produce offsets and can only be propagated by growing it from seed.
About the author
Mari is the author behind Houseplant Central, an informative website dedicated to helping houseplant enthusiasts keep their greenery happy and healthy. Originally from The Netherlands but living in Spain, she spends her days writing about plants in the company of her two parakeets and extensive houseplant collection.