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by Valerie (June 3, 2001)
lechuguilla with young flower stalk, with cholla and century plant tip of young lechuguilla flower stalk
An extremely common desert plant in this part of the country, especially to the southwest of here, lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) is awfully easy to grow. While deciding that we had little choice but to xeriscape part of our yard, we obtained a couple small plants along with other agaves, yuccas and cactus. Although the lechuguilla has proven to be quite interesting, I would never recommend it for the average garden.

There is no problem growing these agaves in our climate, but one year of excessive rain did damage the foliage of several of the plants, making the leaves turn brown. However, by a year later, the new growth had overtaken the disfigured areas. These plants grow extremely quickly, and are very aggressive about offshooting. You can't have just one lechuguilla. There will invariably be a whole cluster and then they will start to grow in the lawn or anywhere else they can invade. While their dark green, shiny foliage is attractive, the points on the end of each leaf are very sharp and the edges of the leaves are lined with backwards pointing spines that are just as dangerous.
lechuguilla buds

There is one variety of lechuguilla that is much smaller than the normal ones. We have one of these plants and, although the same age as the others, it is only about a foot across, with wider proportioned leaves, and has only produced a couple of offshoots. Most lechuguillas are 3-4 feet in diameter and the leaves are very slender. I've got to admit that I very much appreciate the cute little dwarf, especially since I've never been stabbed by it.

Considering how long agaves usually take to bloom, we were very surprised when one of our lechuguillas produced a flower stalk this past spring. The plant is about 13 or 14 years old. The stalk was large for the size of the plant and grew at an astonishing rate. We joked that it was putting on 6 inches a day, but that was not much of an exaggeration. Eventually the stalk was over 10 feet tall and about 1½ inch in diameter. It didn't fall over because it was being supported by the branches of a retama tree that grows near it so, in order to photograph the buds and flowers, I had to stand on my tiptoes on a chair. Even then, I could only reach the bottom part of the flowers, which covered at least two feet of the stalk. lechuguilla blossoms

The flowers themselves were very unusual with tiny petals and extremely long stamens and pistils. After the buds started to open at the bottom, it took about two weeks for the whole array to finish blooming. Many of the flowers produced seed pods but, not wanting any more of these plants, I removed the stalk before the seeds could mature. Considering that our other agaves are century plants, we may not get to see any of them bloom since that could take another 20 years, so it was nice to get to witness this spectacle.

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