The drought-tolerant Parry's agave (Agave parryi) is a striking accent plant for the xeriscape garden.
It forms heavily toothed, compact rosettes of gray-blue, sword-like leaves with a dark spine at the tip of each leaf. Typical of agaves, the plant sends up a flowering spike only after several years of growth. The towering 12- to 18-foot flower stalk produces pink to red buds that open to yellow flowers. The common name century plant comes from the incorrect belief that agaves grow 100 years before blooming. Parry's agave is found in southwestern New Mexico and central Arizona on rocky, open slopes and in woodlands, as well as in the Arizona chaparral.
Common name: Parry's agave, hardy century plant, mescal
Botanical name: Agave parryi
Plant type: Perennial succulent
Height: Leaves 12 inches long; flower panicle on stalk 12 to 18 feet tall
Zones: 8 to 10, though hardiness varies depending on plant habitat. Check for cold tolerance at the nursery where you buy it.
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Cactus potting mix indoors; well-drained, dry, sandy soil outdoors.
- Moisture: For outdoor plants, supplemental water will encourage more growth, but roots will rot if kept wet. For container-grown Agave, water frequently in summer, reduce water in the fall, and water once a month in winter.
- Pruning: None required.
- Mulch: In areas with wet winters, mulch may encourage root rot. In dry climates, mulch young plants during winter to protect newly established roots.
- Fertilizer: Apply only in summer so plants harden off before cooler weather.
- The Flagstaff form of Agave parryi (pictured), introduced in 2005 by High Country Gardens, has 18-inch-long leaves and a 12-foot-tall flower. While it likes sun and heat, it's one of the most cold-hardy forms of Agave parryi. Zones 4 to 10.
- Avoid overwatering, especially in fall and winter.
- In areas colder than Zone 7, plant Agave parryi in containers and place around the garden in summer and bring indoors during winter.
Pests and diseases
- Root rot occurs in poorly drained soils.
- Mealybugs and scale attack the plant.
- Sow seeds in early spring in a warm spot (about 70ºF).
- As the plant matures, it forms offsets (smaller plants). Separate offsets from the main plant in spring or fall. If rooted, plant in soil (where climate permits), or plant in a container; if unrooted, plant in a combination of peat and sand until roots form
All in the family
- Other members of the Agavaceae family include Yucca spp., Phormium spp., Sansevieria trifasciata (mother-in-law's tongue), and Hesperaloe parviflora.
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy High Country Gardens, www.highcountrygardens.com.