About ten years ago, I found two beautiful potted agaves by the side of the road to give away. Overcome by a plant-saving urge, I brought them home and have been growing them ever since. Every fall, I bring them indoors for the winter and since they’re so easy to grow, agaves are on my list of easy plants. This is how I discovered the dwarf forms of this species.
Agaves, in a Nutshell
Agaves form a vast genus of more than 250 species which are all concentrated in the desertic and semi-desertic territories that range from the northeastern United States to Venezuela . These are plants of the Americas. Once in a family of their own, the Agavaceae, they’re now found in the Asparagaceae family, along with asparagus, hostas, lily of the valley and spider plants!
The interest of miniature agaves is, first of all, their extreme ease of cultivation. Outdoors, they do just as well in pots as in the ground and can be placed in full sun, but can also be placed in partial-shaded. You can water them regularly or let Mother Nature do her work. Agaves tolerate light frost, down to -5°C, which makes them the last houseplants to be brought indoors and the first to be taken out in the spring. Then, indoors, they’re grown a bit like cacti. Give them bright indirect sunlight, and water only when the soil is completely dry.
The other interest of miniature agaves is their unique cachet. These plants have a beautiful architecture. The rosette of leaves is perfectly formed and everything is held together in a fascinating kaleidoscopic symmetry. Hairs, grooves, variegations and of course a sharp point are among the attributes of several varieties.
The size of agaves can fluctuate between 6 inches (15 cm) and 6 feet (2 meters) in diameter, depending on the species. The majority of agaves are large plants. This is also why miniature agaves are so interesting. The species which are less than 12” (30 cm) in diameter are harder to come by!
Some Interesting Species
Perhaps the most interesting and easily found miniature agave is the Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae). Native to northeastern Mexico, it’s one of the smallest varieties. I grow the ‘Compacta’ variety which is barely 10cm in diameter. The regular species can measure 40 cm at maturity. The leaves are somewhat angular and are marked with white lines which give it its charm. From what I’ve observed, it produces few suckers and this is probably what makes it a collector’s plant. The cultivars ‘Snow Princess’, ‘Golden Princess’ and ‘White Rhino’ are interesting, although a little more difficult to find.
Verschaffelt ‘s agave (A. potatorum) is also a very small agave that looks a little stocky. To my knowledge it’s one of the smallest species that can be grown. For a plant with glaucous foliage, one will be interested in the cultivar ‘Kissho Kan’ (also written ‘Kichiokan’ or ‘Kichi-Jokan’ according to sources). The cultivar ‘Shoji-Raijin’ is also a coveted variety for its light green foliage. That said, this species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of vulnerable species. It’s therefore essential to ensure that plants come from greenhouse production and not from wild harvesting.
Parry’s agave (Agave parryi, formerly A. patonii) has a more classic shape and when mature can reach around 40 cm in diameter. Agave ‘Cream Spike’ is a big favorite of this genus.
And finally, the tricolor leaves of the thorny-crested agave (A. lophanta, which will possibly become A. univittata) are unique and reminiscent of the leaves of dracenas. They’re very tough and the margin is lined with very prickly thorns. The tip of the leaf is also quite pungent. It’s not the most pleasant to handle! Luckily, they can live for years crammed into the same pot. Repotting is rather rare.
I also noted a list of commercialized species and which would seem interesting to decorate my collection. The challenge here is finding them! As I mentioned for the Verschaffelt agave , some agaves appear on lists of plants threatened with extinction . It’s important, when looking at collectible plants, such as miniature agaves, to do your homework and ensure that the plants come from horticultural production. In short, for the curious, the A. gemminiflora , the A. stricta and A. utahensis would be species to be discovered.