One attraction for the Hancock family when they were house hunting in Denton was the large American agave plants at the front entrance to what eventually became their home. These plants are taller than the tallest of the Hancock family members — Seth, who stands 6-foot, 3 inches. And that's before one of the plants started to send up a very large flower stalk this spring.
The Hancock family first noticed the stalk on April 7. The flower stalk has been growing daily — think Jack and the Beanstalk here, so that it is now 25 to 30 feet tall. It is full of buds that will begin to open soon. The Hancocks expect the agave to be in flower most of the summer and possibly into the early fall.
American agave (Agave Americana) adds a dramatic touch to North Texas landscapes. It is a regal Texas native, found in the southwestern parts of Texas. Although it is also called century plant, American agave usually does not live to be 100 years old; typically, it will live for 15 to 45 years.
When it is fully mature, it sends up tall stalks that bud out, flower and then die. The flower buds are creamy white to pale yellow, and the flowers are usually yellow or yellow-green. When the flower stalk dies, so does the rest of the plant. However, all is not lost. Around the base of the agave, offset plants appear over time that will start the life cycle of the agave anew. These pups can be transplanted to other sites.
The name "agave" comes from the Greek word agauos, which means noble or admirable. The name could refer to the large flower stalk or perhaps the large, thick evergreen leaves that are lance-shaped and succulent.
In American agave plants, the leaves are typically gray-green, somewhat waxy, with a sharp tip and spiny margins. American agave has few pests. It is susceptible to the agave weevil, and snails and slugs may damage its leaves. Its nectar serves as a food source for pollinators.
American agave is winter-hardy in USDA Zones 8-10. As a result, it is more common to see this plant used for landscaping in warmer cities in Texas like Austin or San Marcos than in Denton, which is borderline Zone 8.
American agave can be grown in pots, but usually does better when it is in the ground. It grows well in full to part sun in well-drained soil. Well drained is key — overly moist, poorly drained soil can lead to root rot. American agave can be damaged by winter temperatures in the teens and should be protected.
The Hancocks' agave plants are in part sun and are planted near the top of a slope, aiding proper drainage. They are also close to the house on the south side, protecting them from damaging low winter temperatures. In the right conditions, American agave plants will grow to be over 6 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide.
The Hancock's house did not come with a record of when the agaves were planted, but they know the house dates to 1953. Although it is possible that these plants are as old as the house, it is more likely that a previous owner planted the agaves in the 1980s or '90s. The entire Hancock family, Seth, Collier and Ruby, are grateful, delighted, amazed and humbled by the size of these large agave specimens and the gigantic flower stalk in their yard, where they watch its progress every day.
The Hancocks have been sharing their amazing agave plants with friends and family on social media and have agreed to allow the public to view them, too. They are located at 3400 Santa Monica Drive in the Forrestridge section of Denton. If you visit the plant, please be respectful that this is a private residence.
BECCA DICKSTEIN, a member of the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, is on the University of North Texas biological sciences faculty.