Last weekend I said goodbye to a fixture in my San Francisco garden, my gigantic Agave vilmoriniana, or Octopus Agave. It was a tattered, spindly castoff when I rescued it from a client’s garden about eight years ago – and it developed into an architectural wonder before exploding into bloom. We’ve actually had an ongoing dialogue here in the office about the preponderance of blooms we’ve been noticing from agaves and phormiums. Agave americana is called Century Plant, alluding to the lack of frequency of bloom time. It’s a bumper crop year.
If you know agaves, like the Octopus agave or the Century plant, you’ll understand that the beautiful bloom is also the death knell of these amazing plants. One morning in early June, I made my way down to the disaster zone of my garden to see the spike of the bloom begin. It was about 15 inches tall when I first noticed it – and from then until it reached its maximum 18’ height you could practically watch it grow with the naked eye. A neighbor a backyard block away even commented on the fast-growing, incredibly tall Octopus agave bloom. He could see it from his backyard deck.
This is where it gets interesting. Agave vilmoriniana is not a native to our region, nor is the moth that pollinates it in San Francisco – but agaves are resourceful. If you leave the stalk intact and allow the plant to die, and endure the dying blooms, it miraculously begins to produce pups, or bulbils. Upon my inspection, it looks like there are two pups where each bud once bloomed. I believe in their native environment, as the agave bloom topples, the pups that reach soil will root and continue to grow. Since the native regions of most agaves are so harsh, it makes sense that they would need to produce many plants in order that a few survive.
In an ideal world, I would let the bloom fully mature and topple back to earth and the bulbils continue to mature. But this delinquent gardener is not that patient. It’s time to get this garden in proper order! I hacked the not-so-wilty bloom down this weekend, and have begun to harvest the bulbils. I also yanked the dying Agave vilmoriniana plant from the soil – only to plant another in its place. It’s such a lovely spot for the curving Octopus arms. Let me know if you want to try some bulbils. I have thousands!