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The Somewhat Sordid Tale of the Spike

by germinatrix | July 23rd, 2009


the pollination of the spike ... they're making babies!the pollination of the spike … they’re making babies!

The bloomspike of an agave is a marvelous thing to behold. It is the culmination of a lifetime of stored energy – as the agave dies, its life-essence bolts up and out in a glorious spire; a potent spire!



it was already pretty big when I noticed it... it was already pretty big when I noticed it…

My first agave bloom ever belongs to my erstwhile A. wilmorinina. I don’t even remember when the spike began to stretch and make itself known – suddenly one day it was THERE – alert; insistent. I screamed with excitement! 


the little buds were swelling as the stalk was stretching...the little buds were swelling as the stalk was stretching…



I had heard this particular agave bloom was a big one – I couldn’t wait to see how big my spike was going to get! Yes, yes, I know this is all unseemly and full of double-entendre … but what else can I do? These are the real feelings that rise up between a gardener and her plants, I’m not about to dance around them for the sake of propriety! I was thrilled about the impending hugeness of my phallic blossom!


it reaches majestically for the treetops  it reaches majestically for the treetops

As I’ve said, I was inexperienced. This was my first agave bloom. I was as nervous – I needed information. None of my gardening friends had ever had a blooming Agave wilmoriniana … I needed the gardening version of  ”Forever” by Judy Blume.  

“Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants – A Gardener’s Guide” by Mary & Gary Irish gave me some insight as to what I could expect – ‘a raceme which can be 10-16 ft tall, and quite straight. The yellow-white flowers are held tightly to the stalk, interspersed with numerous bulbils during and after bloom.’ Sixteen feet! “Quite straight!” Wow!  


now that's a long, tall, thin, straight bloomstalknow that’s a long, tall, thin, straight bloomstalk

Mary & Gary were right on target. I didn’t measure (should I have? Do people really do that?) but I think the slender spike topped out at thirteen or fourteen feet. It was a wonder! Jan and I kept on thinking that it was going to fall; it was impossible that it stay so upright, but upright it stayed – even through a weekend of hot, blowing Santa Ana winds. Nothing phased this pole of tightly spaced flowers – it was proud and strong, attracting bees and hummingbirds from all around. It lasted forever – it just kept on going and going. Just when I thought a wave of flowers was spent, another wave of flowers perked up and blossomed! It was a stunning and impressive display – I was honored to be a part of it!

But nothing THAT good lasts forever – it just can’t. The flowers dried and the seedpods swelled and then exploded with teeny, tiny Agave wilmoriniana babies! The bloomspike, now spent, its job done, began to arch over. It just made touchdown on the gravel patio yesterday.


the birds and the bees do their job!the birds and the bees do their job!


exhausted after a job well done... exhausted after a job well done…

Sigh. What an experience! What extended pleasure!! Months and months of bliss!!!

People! What are you WAITING for? Get yourselves an agave! NOW!!!


22 Responses to “The Somewhat Sordid Tale of the Spike”

  1. So now can you ….plant those little babies? Do you pull them off the spike? I’m confused by the next phase! Amazing stuff.

  2. All I can say is Wow!

  3. true garden porn !
    worth the price of admission.
    you could market those babies.

  4. I read this earlier and had to just walk away to calm down.

    I am now able to actually type. Oh My God! You are so lucky…well, lucky to experience it, but of course it’s sad that your agave is now going to die. But all the babies!

    Thanks for taking us along for the trip. I feel a little naughty.

  5. I got great germination on some Agave bracteosa (squid agave) seeds I sowed the other day. I guess that one’s not as fabulous as the A. vilrmoriniana (which I have as a young plant, already growing), but it’s pretty exciting to have some baby agaves.

  6. Too cool, Germi. It reminds me of East-Side-Patch’s coverage of the mystery agave bloom spike and hundreds of resulting bulbils last year, one of which resides in a clay pot on my patio, just waiting for a good spot to be planted in. The next generation…

  7. Hi Germi,

    Love the agave, wish I could plant them here in D.C.

    Love your garden furniture, who manufacters it and where
    can I find it?

  8. yay Ivette! watching you on Bonnie right now. great job!

  9. I am pretty sure you just convinced me germi. That is one thing I KNOW will grow in this hot-ass climate of ours.

    Beautiful. That word coming from a dude… means a lot. Seriously.

  10. Jean Prescott says:

    I need a cold shower! What a story! What a plant! What a way to end the week! You should (pardon the choice of words) erect a monument to your agave near your patio. Gotta love it.

  11. Hi Ivette,
    Mandatory… at least one agave per household! (A new Obama bill)
    I hate to boast but I have two hundred and twenty three! (mostly pups). I have now comically realized I have a serious “space” issue, created by my own obsessive Agave pup saving behaviour.

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience with your “stalk”. It really is an amazing life and death cycle and on such a great scale and timeframe.
    I also did not initially noticing the start of the spire. I think it’s purple hues hide it visually somewhat, or it is the fact that you never, ever expect this sort of thing to happen with this plant. You walk past it thousands of times, then suddenly….!

    This one looks exactly like the one that bloomed in the ESP last year. I am so happy to finally get an ID on this agave! Thanks Ivette!

    Side note:
    When my “stalk” arched over my decomposed-granite pathway (ahem), like in your final picture. I held a limbo block party. After gathering and planting as many of the dying agave pups from the “mothership” as seemed socially acceptable. I doused the wizened trunk in lighter fluid, put on some limbo dancing music, fired up the tikki lights…and the rest is a history I don’t care to remember.

    Ya Man.

  12. Sweet KateF!
    Hi! So good to read your voice! I know, now that I am an Agave grandma I need to know what to do with the babies. I tried pulling one off the spike and totally killed it – yikes! Infanticide! … so, I am going to let the ripen a little more and see if they fall off of their own accord. So until then, I have a flaccid bloomspike arching over my seating area, in the way of everything and everybody. Oh, well – I will do anything to nurture my new babies!

    Albin – thanks for that wow! I say that every day when I walk outside and behold the glory. Even though the whole cycle is at it’s end, it is still pretty damned majestic!

    Hi Michele D! HA ha ha! I know – this went pretty soft-core, right? But what could I do? That’s gardens for you – it brings us closer to the birds and the bees in a VERY literal way!
    I’m planting as many of the pups as I can in my salad greens veg bed – it’s way too hot for those in LA right now, so why not propagate agaves for a while? I am going to corner the market on A. wilmorinianas!

    Dear darling Loree! I had to laugh for about an hour when I read your comment. I’m so glad I could inspire the naughty … we ALL need a little of that! And when it’s right in your face like that, well … ahem! I had to go there!
    I am going to have SO many little ones … I need to find a good home for some of them, wink wink!

    Chuck B! You continue to amaze me with your seed sowing ability … YOU are the REAL ‘Germinat- or’! I mean, really, planting Agave bracteosa from SEED! You rock, man…

    Pam, you are inside my brain! I’ve been thinking about ESP ever since the spike reared it’s lovely head – I even named the spike ‘Vlad’ at ESP’s suggestion. How great that you have one of his babies! I LOVE you Austin bloggers – I want to be an honorary Austin blogger … it is the coolest club in the garden world. I might have to buy a home there just so I can belong! XOXO!

    Hi Erana! You know, you can’t grow this one in the ground, but th one that bloomed lived in a pot! You COULD do it if you bring it inside when it gets cold – it’s worth it!
    And my dear friend and collaborator Judy Kameon and her husband Eric Otsea designed the red daybed I have ( and the striped chairs / ottomans are from the fabulous Fermob. I got those from Plastica ( in LA, but I know they have distributors all over. Great outdoor furniture is SO important! That’s a great topic for a future post – THANKS!!!

    Hey Dear CoCo – right on! it WAS awesome!

    James old pal! Yes – and these hot-ass climates are getting even hotter-assed than they already are! All we can do is plant things that we KNOW will give us something back … and the agaves are total performers!
    I’m happy I got a dude to use the word ‘beautiful’ – and especially you, ’cause you wouldn’t just throw a word like THAT around. Hi 5 to beauty, man!

    Expat, you made me LAUGH! I tried to use every word that would apply to a phallic symbol – and I TOTALLY forgot the word ‘ERECT’! Thank you for using it, it NEEDED to be here! XOXO!

    Dearest ESP!
    This post was VERY inspired by you and your agave babies! And anyone who has 223 agave pups NEEDS to brag! I am seriously considering taking an add out in the LA Times!
    I was SO in love with your potting up of your agave pups, and the way you lined your paths with the resulting tiny terracotta pots … such a beautiful, whimsical design move! You are inspiring, my friend!
    Wow! I am very pleased we ID’d your plant together! The power of the garden blogging community! We are a TEAM! Hey – so I guess that means you and I are cornering the market on Agave wilmorinianas together – cool! Who wants to be a lonely agave mogul?
    Okay, I am going to HAVE to figure out how I am going to send off the bloomspike … it will probably also involve fire – but I’ll have to put a different spin on it. Something this awesome has to be sent off in style, as you well know! Even if you DON’T remember the somewhat sordid details of the send-off of your spike!

  13. Erin! Sorry I accidentally skipped your comment! I had no idea Bonnie Hunt was re-runnning … I’ve gotten a few emails about it. i wonder if it was the one where Bonnie drinks worm pee and spits it out over the compost bins. A classic!

  14. Sigh. I love my climate up here, but sometimes I wish for more. I’ve seen an agave bloom in Portland ONCE. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough, but we don’t have enough around here to start with, and not all of them make it through our wet winters, and then we are DEPRIVED. I’m going for it though, I have a couple agaves that seem to tolerate the conditions year round, I’m going to pop one of the pups in the ground this year, see if I can’t get something going.

  15. What an awesome “spike. And I would have so loved to take some of those babies-and I was CA this week! Maybe I’ll return while you still have some.

  16. LMAO!
    Mammals just can’t compete.
    But sometimes they can symbiose. (I have no idea if that is a word, but I’m making it one.)
    My husband and I have an anniversary coming up, and he asked me if I wanted to go to a favorite nursery. <B He still loves me! I came home with a lovely red epiphillum.

    I count myself lucky. My dad was married to Mom over thirty years before he ‘got it.’ It was apparently when she used the term ‘plant fetish.’ After that, I was a little nervous about buying Mom plants myself. But apparently it’s okay, so long as she’s happy. Another plant-lover called it the Lady Chatterly’s Lover effect.

    Whoo. That’s probably more than you wanted to know about me.

  17. P.S. Are you *sure* that it’s tropicals, and not xerophites, that are the porn stars of the plant world?

  18. Oh my…. I’m speechless! I go away for one week and return to find you’ve had the time of your life witnessing & recording a chronicle so very ….. Germinatrix!
    ( btw Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants holds an important place on my bookshelf, too! xo Alice )

  19. Hi Megan! I’ll bet you are loving your climate right now! I hear you guys are over 100 degrees! Yikes! At least we ar used to those extremes down here … I am hoping all of your big, lusty plants are doing well!
    You know, I have several other Agave wilmorinianas, but I think this one bloomed early because it is in a small pot! I may have just stressed it into a premature bloom … but so what? So maybe keeping agaves in pots has an upside, too! But I do encouage you to pop one in the ground and see what it does – because you love your plants big – and being in ground is how the big agaves reach their most mammoth proportions! XOXO!

    Nicole, you’ll just have to email me your address – as soon as these babies are ‘ripe’ I’m going to have to adopt many of them out to good homes! And any agave that lands in your exotic garden would be very very lucky!

    Hello Summer – and there is NO SUCH THING as too much info here at The Germinatrix! We let all our plant lust loose! And I love that your Mom got your Dad to pony up for her plant fetish! And then for your husband to take you to your favorite nursery – MEOW!!! My husband hasn’t quite jumped on board yet – although he’ll get me great garden books, he’s shy when it comes to buying me plants. So kudos you your guy! He’s a keeper!

    - and I’m beginning to think that the garden world is FULL of porn stars! I was so naiv for so long! Now I look in my garden and see it for what it really is – a HOTBED of reproductive activity! How FUN!

    Lovely Tendril! This Somewhat Sordid Tale has been a VERY fun entry to research and write! I had no idea what to expect – and the journey has been even BETTER than what I anticipated. That is one of the reasons we love our gardens, isn’t it? You never know what is going to happen next – and it could be something entirely outrageous! XOXO!!!

  20. there’s one in bloom in a yard on my drive home. It is freaking huge and starting to lean precariously toward the street. Love to watch its progress.

  21. Mary Jane says:

    My neighbor and I have watched a blooming agave on a corner in our neighborhood. We have enjoyed the beauty and drama. Now we know what to expect so we can plant a little agave baby.
    Thank you!

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