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4 Stunning Agaves That Add Sculptural Appeal to a Garden

Add a sculptural element to your landscape with these desert-adapted agaves recommended by Ron Parker, author of “Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest” (Sunbelt Publications) and founder of

By Lori A. Johnson | Photography by Ron Parker

Zebra Agave 

(Agave zebra)
• Succulent n Rarely blooms; yellow • 3′-4’H by 3′-4’W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 9A-10A • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts bees, hummingbirds

Native to northwestern Sonora, Mexico, this relatively fast-growing agave can be used in raised planters and containers but is best planted away from walkways due to its sharp spines. Like other agaves, it is monocarpic and blooms once before dying, producing a flower stalk as tall as 25 feet with yellow blooms near the top.

Why we like it: “This small to midsized, bright blue and, at times, brilliantly banded agave sports an unusual posture and wicked marginal spines, which command attention and demand respect. Once established, this gorgeous, underused agave rewards with the occasional offset,” Parker says.

Whale’s Tongue Agave 

(Agave ovatifolia)
• Succulent • Rarely blooms; yellow • 3′-4’H by 4′-6’W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 7A-11 • Full to partial sun • Low water; low maintenance •  Attracts birds, butterflies, hummingbirds

More cold-hardy than many other agaves, the powdery blue-gray whale’s tongue agave reproduces via seed and bulbils after flowering, rather than via offsets. The multibranched flower spikes can reach as tall as 15 feet, with greenish-yellow flowers.

Why we like it: “This big boy (6 feet across) is a fairly recent introduction to the gardening world,” Parker explains. “Its low-lying, sprawling form and extra-wide leaves render it an outstanding centerpiece for any xeric garden. It’s a rough, tough solitary agave that takes desert heat and sun well, though a little afternoon shade is always appreciated.”

Hohokam Agave 

(Agave murpheyi)
• Succulent n Rarely blooms; yellow • 2′-3’H by 2′-3’W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 8A-10B • Full sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts bees, hummingbirds

This plant originates in Sonora but has also been found in central Arizona where the ancient Hohokam were known to cultivate agaves. Once it blooms, it produces a 10-12-foot tall stalk, or inflorescence, culminating in clusters of greenish-yellow flowers.

Why we like it: “This very special agave, with its rich history of development as an ancient cultivar, was farmed by indigenous Native Americans all across Arizona as long as a thousand years ago,” Parker tells us. “Even the variegated version (shown) originally hails from the remains of an ancient Hohokam agave farm not far from the Phoenix area.”

Queen Victoria Agave 

(Agave victoria-reginae)
• Succulent • Rarely blooms; red • 1’H by 1′-2’W • Well-drained sandy soil • Zones 9-11 • Full to partial sun • Low water; low maintenance • Attracts birds, hummingbirds

Native to the Chihuahuan Desert and cold-hardy to 12 degrees, this regal agave is notable for its small form and densely packed, toothless leaves edged in white. Also monocarpic, its single, unbranched 15-foot-tall flower spike produces dense clusters of reddish-purple flowers before dying.

Why we like it: “Ever the classic, Queen Vic’s small size (no more than 2 inches across), compact form, solitary disposition and dramatic white leaf imprints always draw some ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs.’ It’s a bit of a slow grower but guaranteed to become a favorite with just a bit of patience,” Parker says.


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