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Plant Database Search Results > Agave attenuata
Agave attenuata - Fox Tail Agave
Image of Agave attenuata
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Agavaceae (now Asparagaceae)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Yellow Green
Bloomtime: Infrequent
Synonyms: [A. cernua, A. glaucescens, Agave pruinosa]
Height: 4-5 feet
Width: 6-8 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Seaside: Yes
Deer Tolerant: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30° F
May be Poisonous  (More Info): Yes
Agave attenuata (Fox Tail Agave) - This Agave presents to the gardener none of the dangers that its spine-covered relatives do. Massing up to 4 to 5 feet tall by about twice as wide, individual rosettes may reach 4 feet wide atop a stout curving smooth gray stem that rise to 4 feet tall. The wide pale green pliable leaves emerge from a tight central spear to arch gracefully back, looking a bit like large open green flower. Mature plants send up a 5 to 10 foot vertical flower stalk that reflexes back towards the ground before arching upward again, giving this plant the common name, the Fox-tail agave – it is also called Lion's Tail Agave and Swan's Neck Agave. The flowers are a pale greenish yellow and are followed by seed pods and many new "plantlets" (or bulbils).

Plant in full coastal sun to shade in moist or dry soils (looks best with an occasional watering). Tolerates seaside conditions but it will usually be damaged in temperatures much below 28° F. We had plants survive the Christmas 1990 freeze with temperatures down to 18°F, but they were severely disfigured. It was reported in Gary and Mary Irish's "Agave, Yuccas and Related Plants" that the Desert Botanic Garden lost plants from temperatures at 25 °F but plants growing here in gardens in the Goleta valley just west of Santa Barbara, were damaged but survived the 3 nights in a row we had at 25° F in January 2007 . Protect from snails which can also disfigure the plant. This plant is a beautiful soft green color, which works well with other succulents or even tropical plant material.

Agave attenuata is native to the plateau of central Mexico in the states of Jalisco, México and Michoacán where it grows on rocky outcrops in pine forests from 6000-8000 feet in elevation. The original specimens were sent to Kew in 1834 by the French-Belgian botanist Henri Guillaume Galeotti (1814 – 1858), who collected it from an unspecified location in central Mexico. More recent study has reported it from Jalisco east to Mexico City, in small colonies at elevations of 1,900 to 2,500 meters (6,200 to 8,200 feet), but there have been few recorded sightings, suggesting this agave is rare in the wild. The plant was originally described by Prince Joseph Salm-Reifferscheid-Dyck or Salm-Dyck (1773-1861) who described the plant in his Hortus Dyckensis ou Catalogue des Plantes cutiées dans les jardins de Dyck (1834). The specific epithet comes from the Latin word 'attenuo' meaning "weaken", "diminish" or "shrink" and in botanical usage has come to refer to the gradual reduction of the leaf as it tapers to a slender point.

Agave attenuata was one of the first succulent plants we grew at the nursery, listing it for sale in our 1981 catalog. We also grow a form of this species originally collected by Myron Kimnack and Fred Boutin in 1970 and that was called Agave attenuata 'Nova' by the Huntington Botanic Gardens – it has shorter broader leaves that are a blue gray and erect flower stalks. We grow a selected seedling of this plant that is called Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue' as well as the variegated selections Agave attenuata 'Kara's Stripes', Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' and Agave attenuata 'Variegata'. We also grow another similar Agave in this Amolae group, Agave pedunculifera, which has minute teeth along the leaf margins and does not grow up on a stalk – this plant was recently (2006) reclassified by Bernd Ullrich as Agave attenuata subspecies dentata. 

This information about Agave attenuata displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.