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Arboretum Spotlight: Let this agave grab you

Octopus agave lives up to its evocative nickname – except it has many more than eight “arms.”
Octopus agave lives up to its evocative nickname – except it has many more than eight “arms.”

This is one part in a weekly series featuring the UC Davis Arboretum’s “40 Plants You (Probably) Have Never Heard of – But Will Love,” 40 can’t-fail, easy-care, low-water plants well adapted to our region but hard to find.

Octopus agave

Agave vilmoriniana

Size: Three to 4 feet tall and wide.

Bloom season: Produces tall yellow-green bloom spike after many years.

Exposure: Full sun.

Pruning needs: None.

Water needs: Very low; once established, water once a month or not at all.

Snapshot: A native of northern Mexico, this large agave can be a real attention getter. A very unusual-looking succulent, this plant features long narrow fleshy green leaves that twist back toward the ground, making it look like a giant green octopus with outreaching tentacles. Unlike many prickly agaves, those deeply furrowed arching leaves are “unarmed,” making this agave a relatively safe plant for walkway areas or container growing. Those leaves aren’t completely smooth; the leaf margins often have small serrations that can be fairly sharp. (Wear gloves while working around this plant.) Usually about 10 years after planting, this agave will produce a giant flower spike and the mother plant will die back. Unlike other agaves, octopus agave does not produce offsets after bloom, but young “plantlets” form along the flower stem and can be used to replant. Octopus agave tolerates cold as well as drought; it’s hardy down to 24 degrees. In its native habitat, it grows in dry canyons between 2,000 and 5,500 feet.

For more on “40 Plants,” click on arboretum.ucdavis.edu.