Agavaceae: Century Plant Family

Century Plant – Agave americana

Plant Height:

8–20 dm

Flower Size:

Large clusters

Origin:

Mexico

Habitat:

Various

Notes:

The illustrated specimens were certainly introduced.  There are three species of Agave found in California (Agave deserti, shawii & utahensis), but none grows naturally in Monterey County.  Plants flower only once during their lifetime and then die (although often after producing suckers which develop into new plants).  The name “Century Plant” is something of an exaggeration, 10-30 years is closer to their normal lifespan.

Wavyleaf Soap Plant – Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum

Blooms:

May–Aug

Plant Height:

5–25 dm

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry, open hills & plains

Notes:

This is recognizable by its wavy basal leaves, and beautiful white flowers which only open in late afternoon, closing by the following morning.  Every 1-2 days, a bud on the flower spike opens, in sequence moving upward.  In photo #3, the striped, swelling buds are visible to the right of today’s bloom, while the twisted, spent flowers are on the left.  The bulb is covered in coarse fibers; the last photo shows one that has been dug up.  Both bulb and fibers were used by indigenous people.  Photos #2 and 3 by CJH.

Soap plant
Soap plant

Chapparal Yucca / Our Lord’s Candle – Hesperoyucca whipplei

Blooms:

Apr–May

Plant Height:

2–40 dm

Flower Size:

Large clusters

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Chaparral; dry, rocky slopes

Notes:

Unmistakable. It has a basal rosette of narrow, gray, spine-tipped leaves.  The tall flower spike is covered with a mass of creamy-white flowers.