Focus on flora in the Cayman Islands: Foxtail agave

18 November 2019


By Shannon Schmidt

Common names of plants are amusing and fun to learn because they usually refer to the physical appearance of the plant, or perhaps something regional.

For example, foxtail agave is also referred to as swan’s neck agave in some places, but since you won’t find swans in the mountains of Mexico where this agave is native, you won’t hear that name there.

Because of regional name differences, botanical Latin is used as a universal language for plants. Since this is the case, foxtail agave has the botanical Latin name Agave attenuata in Mexico, as it does in the Cayman Islands and everywhere else in the world.

The common names foxtail agave, swan’s neck agave and lion’s tail agave all refer to the inflorescence (flowering body) of this agave, which shoots up at an angle, then bends back down toward the ground. Like nearly all agaves, foxtail agave is monocarpic, which means it flowers only once in its lifetime, then dies. Since the flowering is a pretty exciting part of this plant, it is important to catch it when it happens.

The pale green/yellow flowers then turn to seed pods, which become hundreds of baby agave, or plantlets. Although it has flowered and died, it leaves behind lots of babies that can literally be placed in soil and will grow.

Native to the states of Jalisco and Michoacan, Mexico, this beautiful agave is found in patches growing at higher altitudes on rocks amid pine forests. It can also be found growing in similar conditions in the Canary Islands, and on Madeira off the western coast of Africa. It is rare to find it growing in the wild, which means it has been successfully propagated and is adaptable to many climates and soil conditions, but is not facing any threat of being endangered.

Aside from its striking glaucous, or blue-grey, leaves, it is a gardener’s dream come true because it naturally lacks teeth and terminal spines that make other agave tricky to work around/with.

A common misconception about succulents is that they like or need full sun conditions to thrive. On the contrary, most succulents prefer not to be in direct sunlight, especially during hot summer months.

In Camana Bay, the foxtail agave can be found on Nexus Way, just south of the One Nexus Way building.

This article originally appeared in the November 2019 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Foxtail Agave”.