What is a Century Plant? Maguey – aka Agave Americana Plant

Maguey or Agave americana is a native plant from Mexico, but is now cultivated in many parts of the world. This drought tolerant plant, also known by the name century plant or American aloe, is neither an aloe nor a cactus, but pertains to the Agavaceae family.  The unique architectural Agave is one of the best xeriscape plants for your garden.

several species of Agave

 

agave cactus good for containers pots
Blue Glow Agave looks like a flower

Maguey Plant is one of the many species of agave plants (commonly called cactus)  that exist in the Americas. They grow in semi-arid environments from sea level to an altitude of about 9000 feet.

The largest Century Plant in the World

Above, is one of the largest Agave Americana Plants, Maguey Plant or Century Plants in the world.  (photo courtesy of statesman.com)

In ancient Mesoamerica, (Middle America), maguey or agave, was first collected and then cultivated for many uses.  Native people used the agave leaves to make ropes, construction materials and textiles.  See the picture below of Agave felgeri, also called Mescalito.  Mescalito is native to Mexico and is found in many desert gardens especially in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.

Mescalito, Agave felgeri

 

pruned agave

Ancient Mayans used Agave thorns in bloodletting rituals, Royal Maya Blood Sacrifices to communicate with the gods. However, the most important product the Mayans obtained from maguey, agave,  was a mildly alcoholic beverage called pulque, obtained by the fermentation of the sweet, milky juice extracted from the agave plant.

100 year old cactus Century Plant
Agave Century Plant

Agave americana (aka Century Plant) is a massive plant.  There are many varieties of agave in cultivation, with some being excellent for smaller gardens or pots, and some being too large; therefore used for botanical gardens or ranches.

different cactus agave species
Agave potatorum Kichiokan

 

cactus plant for making tequila
Tequila Blue Agave

 

century cactus plant with blooms
smaller species of Agave americana

Agaves are called century plants since some species take 100 years to flower in the wild. However, in cultivation with adequate summer moisture, most agaves flower between 10 and 15 years of age.  When they do flower, the tall bloom stalks attract many hummingbirds!

the cactus that dies after it blooms
century plant, agave cactus in the desert

See the photo below of a field in Jalisco, Mexico, overflowing with blue agave plants, ripe for harvesting and used in tequila production.

cactus used for tequila
Blue Agave Field used to make Tequila alcohol

Agave americana grows wild in Europe, India, Australia and South Africa.  It has become naturalized in many areas such as California.  In southern California there are massive plantings of Agave american, Century Plants, along the highways.  This Century Plant, Agave american, is a common species of agave that is beautiful but very aggressive.  Many gardens in California and Mexico use Agave americana as a living fence.

stalk of the century cactus plant
bottom of a century plant, Agave americana

When Century plants or other agave cactus are grown in pots, they will grow to the size of the container.  Please note that containerized century plants must be brought indoors when temperatures drop below freezing.  Below is one of our agaves growing in a pot next to other cacti.  Two Maguey, Agave americanas are in the top right of the picture below.

blue glow agave in a container
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Interesting Saguaro Cactus Facts

One of Arizona’s most majestic, lovable desert cactus plants is the Saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea. Being aware of the saguaro’s history and incredible internal design, it is an honor to walk close to the Giant Saguaro that is over 150 years old and standing tall.

Sonoran Desert cactus tall
Giant Saguaro Cactus of Arizona

These desert cacti are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age.

Saguaro Cactus can not tolerate freezing temperatures in the winter and this is what limits their range.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro FACTS:  Saguaros are a very slow growing cactus.  A 10 year old plant might only be 2 inches tall.

How tall can a Saguaro Cactus grow?  It can grow 40 to 60 feet tall.

Arizona Saguaro Giant Cactus
Saguaro Cactus on Mica Mountain
60 foot Saguaro Cactus plant
A Tall Saguaro Cactus

Below are Saguaro cacti at the bottom of Mica Mountain in Saguaro National Park.

Mica Mountain Saguaro National Park

Saguaro cactus roots are only 4-6 inches deep and travel out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep tap root that extends down into the ground.

A Saguaro Cactus can gather enough water through its remarkable root system, during a significant rain, to last a year!

holes in big cactus
Holes in Saguaro Cactus for birds nest

Why are there holes in the Saguaro Cactus?  The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.

Birds nesting in the Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Cactus Wrens are common birds that live in the holes (nests) of the Saguaro Cactus.

red fruit of cactus
Saguaro Cactus Flowers bloom, then turn to fruit

When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.

white flower on cactus arizona
Saguaro cactus Bloom – Flower

A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination.  Only a few bloom each night awaiting to be pollinated and close by late morning.

pollinated cactus flower to fruit
red fruit on Saguaro Cactus
dead saguaro cactus ribs
A living and dead Saguaro Cactus.

Because the major part of a desert saguaro cactus is made up of water, an adult plant may weigh 6 tons or more. This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of inter-connected, woody ribs.

After the saguaro dies its wood ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.  The holes that birds nested in are called saguaro boots.

holes in cactus in Arizona
Saguaro Boot used by Native American

Native Americans used saguaro boots as water containers.

200 year old tall saguaro cactus
Saguaro Cactus next to a biker to compare the size

Saguaro branches normally begin to appear when the cactus reaches 50 to 70 years of age.

The average life span of a saguaro is approximately 175 years of age.  Experts have estimated that a Saguaro Cactus with more than 5 arms can be 200 years old.

nurse tree for saguaro cactus
Yellow Palo Verde Tree is a nurse tree

Young saguaro cacti can be very hard to find because they grow under the protection of a “nurse tree”.  The nurse tree releases nitrogen in the soil which the Saguaros and other desert cacti use to grow healthy and strong.

Saguaros sometimes grow in odd shapes or forms. The growing tip of the cactus occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.

rare arizona cactus
Cristate Saguaro Cactus

These crested saguaro cacti, Carnegia gigantea forma cristata, are rare.  Biologists are not sure why these Saguaros grow this fan-like shape.

Fan like shaped cactus rare
Crested, Cristate, Fan-like Saguaro Cactus from AZ
crested cristate cactus in Tucson Phoenix
rare Saguaro in Tucson

Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of  The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona. During building or construction, precautions must be taken to move every saguaro that may be affected.

Cactus flowers and blooms – blooming cactus pictures from our yard – Echinopsis

Flowering cactus belong to a tribe called Trichocereeae.  There are 25 members, species,  of these cacti including the night blooming variety.

One of our cacti had a gorgeous white flower bloom in the night.  Shadow stuck his nose in it as soon as I let him outside so this flower must smell wonderful!

Many people call the cactus in the photo below, the Easter lily cactus.  This beauty is part of the large genus called Echinopsis, which contains over 100 species of treelike to globose, (shape of a sphere or ball). 

flower cactus
night flowering cactus plant

Along with Shadow, bees and hummingbirds love these cactus blooms!

cactus white flower
Easter Lily Flowering cactus

Echinopsis cactus species are known for the great size of the flower tube.  See the size of the tube on the cactus photo below.  The Flowers from these cacti tend to be much larger than you would expect.

Echinopsis
white cactus flower with long tube

This cactus bloomed during the night.  We adore our garden surprises from our variety of cacti.  Sadly the flowers only last for a day.  The cactus flower shrivels up and by morning you won’t even know it was there.

Caring for your flowering cactus is quite easy.  Cactus should be grown in full sun and well drained soil.  The soil for Echinopsis cactus species should never be saturated, as the soft fibrous roots will rot if kept wet for any length of time.

Choosing plants with colors, flowers, drought tolerant, heat resistant – white purple red orange yellow bushes

Adding splendid color and shapes to your low maintenance garden – Lets start with white and purple flowering shrubs.  TEXAS SAGES, Leucophyllums, are among the most reliable and fool-proof of the low water use plants available in Arizona!

White and Purple Texas Sage

Texas sage bushes have silvery gray leaves and purple or white flowers that bloom from summer through autumn. These sage plants are relatively carefree after they are planted, but good sunlight and proper drainage are essential to the Texas Sages success.

sage with prickley pear cactus

The purple and white flowers look amazing next to a prickley pear cactus.  In areas with poor drainage or with high average rainfalls, plant Texas sage brushes in raised beds.

Purple sage and oleander

The picture above has some of the best ideas for choosing plants with colors and different shapes that can be used in xeriscape or any low care, heat resistant yard.  Prickley Pear cactus are unique in gardens and add an architectural flare.

In the photo background is a Red Oleander, Nerium oleander, bush.  Oleanders make a popular divider or hedge, and can even be trained into a tree.

Of course we must mention the ever so popular Purple Texas Sage, also called Texas Ranger Plant.  The White flowering species of Texas Sage is called White Cloud and is a heavenly white bush that blooms commonly throughout Arizona and adds dazzling color to any garden.

white cloud texas sage

In the above photo you will see an Ocotillo Cactus standing tall behind the white flowering bush.  This White Cloud Texas Sage shrub could be trimmed; therefore creating a contrast between the magnificent Ocotillo cactus and the white blooms.

purple sage and new gold lantana

Texas New Gold Lantana and Purple Texas Sage are considered two of the best drought tolerant, easy care, heat resistant, flowering desert plants in Arizona, California, etc…  The yellow lantana mound looks dazzling next to a well pruned purple sage shrub.

add cacti to any flowering bush

Pictured above is part of the xeriscape area of our yard.  Cacti come in a variety of shapes and colors.  Some species of cactus have glorious flowers that bloom in the summer.  Grow a flowering desert plant, bush next to a cactus to create a beautiful desert garden.  The Bougainvillea shrub looks amazing next to a barrel cactus in the picture below.

bougainvillea and barrel cactus

 If desertscape makes you think of sparse, ugly gardens and cacti, think again!  Desert gardens can be gorgeous and cascading with color; all one needs is a little imagination

Red Bird of Paradise

Red Bird of Paradise plant is the best choice for orange, red and yellow flowering bushes.  Add a Saguaro cactus next to your desert shrub to create an unique design.

Pictured below is a common Arizona Wildflower called White Stem Paper Flower.  During Arizona Monsoon, (rainy season) the wild flowers paint the desert and many desert gardens.

white stem paper flower

Paint your own desert; the choices are endless!