Goodbye to My Agave vilmoriniana

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!

10 Responses to “Goodbye to My Agave vilmoriniana”

  1. Les Stoddard

    I to have an octopus agave that has just started to bloom.I love this plant, I didnt know it is going to die.I bought it from a nursery three years ago.I don’t know what I’m going to plant in its place.

  2. annie king

    I live in Cape Town South Africa on the west coast. got very excited when my Agave only a few week ago started showing growth of a flower. It is almost 2mt high no flowers yet.

    your Agave looks fabulous



  3. Lenita Kellstrand

    Could you elaborate on how you harvested the bulbils? I just witnessed the spectacular process of mine blooming, and would love to pot up some replacements.

  4. JJ Charest

    I have two agave that bloomed this year. I don’t see any pups I can save. Where do you live? I would like to get a few pups from you so I can again have this beautiful plant. I live in Irvine, Ca.

  5. Tara


    Do you still have any of the baby pups left please?
    I’m in the UK and love to grow unusual architectural plants when I can find them.

    I’ll pay the P+P and whatever you want for 3 or 4 pups 🙂

    Best wishes

  6. Joan

    Today is June 16 1014. I have lots of pups. Please email me. Joan

  7. Jon taylor

    I am so very interested in some octopus agave babies I love them so much. I snagged a couple on my last trip to AZ .. Just a few. Please email me if you want to find a good home for some of yours -jon

  8. Greg Chick

    Is this the same plant that actually grows a tall stem about 6 ft. tall and has several heads? I can no find the name, does anyone know? What I am refering to has a structure like a yucca but curvy leaves.

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