Plant of the Month – October, 2007
Latin Name: Agave victoriae-reginae
Common Name: Queen Agave
Foliage: Dark green with pure white stripes
Mature height: 12 inch
Hardiness: Perennial to zone 7b
Soil: Well drained
Water usage: Low
Sources: Mail order, internet, or local nurseries
How about a container plant that can stand 10-degree weather in winter and full sun in 100-degree-plus weather in summer? What if it was drought-tolerant enough to easily last a couple of weeks without watering while you are on vacation? Well, queen agave does all of that and looks beautiful while doing it.
This miniature species of the familiar desert icon is from our neighboring Mexico. Unlike other species, this one forms tight, spherical clusters of foliage that are marked with bright white lines. Mature plants seldom get larger than a basketball, which makes them the perfect size for containers.
The dark green leaves are toothless along the edges, but are tipped by one sharp spine. One of my friends actually says the spines are a great addition — she feels that not only do they keep the squirrels and deer away, but it’s the one plant her labrador retriever doesn’t try to retrieve!
I’ve found that this particular agave actually does better in pots than in the ground. It’s easier for the soil to dry out and drain when raised up in a pot. Terra cotta containers are perfect for this plant. Queen agaves are completely hardy to heat and cold, but unable to withstand waterlogged, soggy soil. A rule of thumb I’ve always adhered to is all agaves need full, blazing sun, but I’ve seen this one doing quite well with later afternoon shade. In periods of freezing rain or sleet, wrap the plant in plastic or sheets to keep ice from forming around the central crown. Although these plants are cold-tolerant, being packed in ice will do them in.
All agaves are drought-tolerant, but if grown in very well-drained soil, they will grow much better if watered regularly. Queen agave also benefits from monthly fertilizing with a liquid low-nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season.
Occasionally young plants (called pups) will appear at the base of the mother plant. Once they reach a good size, they can be easily separated.
This plant is regularly available at retail stores, often being sold as houseplants. Also, they are easily found via mail-order through the internet.
I know that this is an unusual container plant, but the architectural form and the contrast of the pure white lines on the dark green foliage makes it extremely attractive. Even if you’re not into dryland or desert gardens, this one can make a striking addition to your yard.
To see this plant and more, visit the Dallas Arboretum Main Trial Gardens. We are located at 8525 Garland Road, overlooking White Rock Lake. For more information, visit www.dallasarboretum.org
About the author: Jimmy Turner is the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. For more plant profiles by Jimmy, subscribe to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine.