Moderate - Slow
The desert agave grows in the hot, dry, low elevation regions of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts either side of the Colorado River. The leaves have a distinct bluish tinge, and are relatively thick and wide at the base (3 inches across), up to 27 inches in length, convex underneath and concave on top. The pronounced teeth along leaf edges are dark-tipped, a third of an inch long, and like most agave the underside of each leaf bears a permanent imprint of the teeth of from the underlying leaf, created when the two were growing together. When the plants are 8-20 years old they send up a sturdy, 6-9 ft., flowering stalk bearing large, mounded clusters of pale yellow, tubular flowers. After setting fruit, the entire plant dies. The dried seed capsules remain conspicuous for many months.
Use it in hot, dry desert gardens or mixed in with large boulders. It can also be mixed into low-water-use cactus and succulent gardens. This plant is native to rocky areas in the high deserts of southern California where it grows in washes and western slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains. The plant needs full sun and tolerates reflected heat. It is drought-resistant, but prefers supplemental irrigation and well-draining soil. The desert agave is hardy to five degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Arizona State University, desert agave has a rich ethnobotanical legacy. The Coahuilan Indians of Southern California are thought to have once made use of desert agave. They referred to desert agave as "a-mul", sections of the flowering stalk as "u-a-sil", the leaves as "ya-mil", and the yellow blossoms as "amul-sal-em". These parts of desert agave were all cooked in various ways and eaten, or made into drink, soap, clothing, rope, other fibers, needles and thread, paper, glue, weapons, medicines, red coloring matter or ornamental and hedge plants.
Growing Plants in the Desert — Important Information
The information presented here is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate and based on my research from reliable sources, observations I have made of plants growing in my, and other gardens I have visited, and observations of the plants in their native habitats. I would appreciate your feedback and experience to help me educate others!
Cacti: In my experience, cacti are much happier in the filtered shade here in the low desert of the Coachella Valley. Colors are more vibrant and they bloom more profusely, especially the non-native varieties. If you pay attention to how our native barrel and beavertail opuntia grow in the wild, it is frequently tucked in the rocks under creosote or another shrub.
Light Requirements: I have found that in our desert (Sonoran/Colorado) “full sun” plants can take and appreciate the late afternoon filtered sun, especially in the hot summer months.