Cotton-tipped Century Plant

I remember looking in astonishment at the first published photos of the newly described North American (Northern Mexico) native century plant, Agave albopilosa, with disbelief. Could this really be real, and if so, how did it escape being discovered and published until 2007. It turned out not to be an April Fools photoshop joke, but indeed an amazing new botanical discovery.

We were finally able to acquire seed in 2010, and again in 2013, so our oldest plants, pictured below, are now a decade old. It took about 2 years for the cotton balls to begin to form on the leaf tips, but like most century plants, Agave albopilosa turned out to be easy to grow, albeit insanely slow. It’s so slow, that commercial production will probably always be limited to small specialty nurseries. It’s been interesting to observe the genetic differences of the species, as you can see below. Some of our seedlings are non-offsetting, while others produce numerous offsets.

Agave albopilosa
Agave albopilosa

The first plant that I’m aware of to flower in the US, occured this summer at Walters Gardens in Michigan. Below is plantsman Hans Hansen, showing off his baby, before the pollen is removed for breeding purposes. Because it’s a cliff dweller, the flower spikes found it more reasonable to hang downward. If the cotton balls are heritable, as they should be, I see no reason within a decade that we can’t have giant century plants in our gardens with cotton balls at the tip of each leaf.

Hans Hansen with Agave albopilosa with flower stalk

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