Bulbils from a Bloomed-Out Agave

– Posted in: Succulents

Agave bulbils

When young succulent horticulturist Matthew Wong, 11, visited, we cut down the bloom spike of my octopus agave and harvested bulbils.

Agave vilmoriniana

Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) grows to about 4 feet in diameter and 5 feet tall. A “soft” agave, its leaves lack teeth and its tips come to a point but are not sharp. In the landscape, it provides a graceful, fountainlike form.

Agave vilmoriniana bloom spikeMine decided to bloom after it had been in the ground eight years. It’s bittersweet when an agave blooms. You know the mother plant will die, but you also get to witness something infrequent and amazing.

Agave bloom spike, young When an agave decides to bloom, there’s no persuading it not to. The bloom spike typically grows several inches a day until it towers over the plant. It’s covered with flower buds.

Agave vilmoriniana bloom

These open into yellow flowers that attract bees. Once pollinated, a flower loses its petals and produces new little leaves. Its bulbous base remains attached to the trunk, so pretty soon the flower spike is covered with tiny clones of the mother plant. The entire process takes several months.

Agave, post-bloom

It took me only a minute to saw through the stalk’s 4-inch-diameter, corky wood. The agave’s 10-foot bloom spike fell to the ground at Matthew’s feet.

Removing bulbils, Matthew

Dried flower petals clung to the spike (they’re the brown stuff in the photo). Matthew and I gently twisted off the best and biggest of the bulbils.

Agave bulbils2

I lined a nursery flat with window screen (so soil wouldn’t fall through the gaps), added potting soil, then planted two dozen bulbils in rows. In about six months they’ll have rooted, grown and will be ready to separate and plant in 4-inch nursery pots. Once they outgrow those pots, they’ll be ready to go in the ground.

Agave bulbils in flat

I have no need for more than one or two octopus agaves, so I don’t know what I’ll do with the rest…give them away, probably. (Want one?) Matthew took home a handful. Hundreds more still cling to the fallen bloom spike. I’m going to leave it on the ground and observe it as it dries and the baby plants either dry with it or continue to pull nourishment from it. Perhaps a few will establish themselves and eventually replace the mother plant. After all, that’s what happens in nature.

P.S. Am I exaggerating when I say Matthew Wong is a succulent horticulturist? Decide for yourself. See my “Succulent Matters with Matthew” series on my YouTube channel. Here’s the latest.

Screen shot 2015-07-05 at 6.33.30 PM

 

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Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin

Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
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