Tag Archives: Greg Starr

chasing agaves


Last Saturday, while millions marched their way into the history books, I was driving south to San Diego to meet agave expert Greg Starr.
I had been looking forward to this 2-hour road trip for some time, as a beacon in an otherwise fairly bleak January. Family medical issues against the chaotic national backdrop were starting to take a toll.
My guilt was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that our family would be represented by a marcher. Definitely count me in for the next one and the one after that.
NPR covered the march for the drive south, and the recent back-to-back storms cleared to offer up a gorgeous, cloud-scudded and dry Saturday. Pardon my nativism, but California is so beautiful.

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My destination was this private home where the San Diego Horticultural Society was hosting the talk by Greg Starr and a plant sale. Greg was bringing agaves!

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The front garden was a life-affirming explosion of agaves and aloes.
A blooming cowhorn agave, A. bovicornuta, is still a commanding presence, even among show-stealing flowering aloes.

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Tree in the background is Euphorbia cotinifolia.

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A narrow footpath runs a few feet in front of the house for access.
I’d be guessing at aloe names, since the owner has access to some amazing hybrids.
The bright orange in the left foreground looks a lot like my Aloe ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’

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Agave ‘Jaws’ fronted by a marlothii-hybrid aloe in bud.

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Incredibly tight tapestry of succulents, with some self-sowing alyssum and California poppies managing to find a root-hold.

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Unfortunately, Mr. Starr was unable to attend, probably due to the recent spate of severe weather and heavy rain.
But the owner’s private collection of aloes and agaves was more than enough compensation. That’s Agave ‘Streaker’ above in one of his raised beds in the backyard.

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Agave pumila, at a size I didn’t know they achieved.

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Selection of Agave utahensis

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Aloe longistyla, touchy about drainage, prone to mites, but so beautiful, flaunting some of the largest flowers of any aloe in relation to clump size.

The San Diego Hort. Society members provided lots of interesting plants for sale, including a variegated agave I can’t find a reference for (‘Northern Lights’ — anyone?)
With the Mini already nearly full to capacity, I stopped at Solana Succulents on the way home, detouring west to its location directly on Highway 1 in sight of the Pacific.
Owner Jeff Moore manages to tuck in a stellar selection of rarities in a relatively small-size nursery. Here is where I finally found the long-coveted Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ in a gallon.

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A nice shipment from B&B Cactus Farm was on the shelves, like this Astrophytum ornatum. I also brought home a Parodia magnifica.

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And another cowhorn agave.

I don’t think I’ve had Jeff’s self-published book out of arm’s reach since I bought it last Saturday.
“Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation” is everything you’d expect from someone who knows all the growers, hybridizers, and designers in San Diego County.
He’ll be speaking closer to home, at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, this March.
And February’s speaker doesn’t look bad either (Panayoti Kelaidis!)

Agave titanota (crush with eyeliner)

Let me change the holiday music channel, if ever so briefly, by sharing the soundtrack that plays every time I walk by this agave, my crush with eyeliner.

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Agave titanota hybrid ‘Lanky Wanky’

A silly, last-round-at-the-pub name for a sideways-leaning hybrid of an elusive agave, an agave I’ve unknowingly owned for some years.

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Here’s the real thing, Agave titanota.
This agave is famous for it’s pale white leaves, though I would argue that Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ may now hold that honor.

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Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’


Agave titanota has been one of my long-standing mystery agaves. While it gained size, growing nameless, anonymous, and let’s face it unloved, I occasionally pursued the legendary Agave titanota elsewhere, on eBay for example, where I was saddled with an impostor (who is now the new mystery agave). I didn’t know what my old mystery agave was, but it didn’t strike me as anything special. It took a long time to become smitten with Agave titanota, because it doesn’t form that tight, breathtaking, world-within-world form that I expect to admire in agaves. The sharkskin-like leaves jut out at odd angles, and I mistook its pale coloring for bleached-out sunburn. Its famous natural qualities I attributed to grower error. (Someone needs more reference books.)

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Fortunately for me, this agave chugged along amidst all that neglect, forgotten in a rarely watered pot in full sun.
Agaves Yuccas and Related Plants” by Mary & Gary Irish helped with the final ID, as well as seeing a labeled A. titanota at a nursery recently. The similarity of the hybrid ‘Lanky Wanky’ also confirms the ID, and I love how its more congested form accentuates the black eyeliner on the leaf margins and spine tips. The new book on agaves, “Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers,” by Greg Starr, would be handy in a reference library too.

Agave titanota — still not a favorite, but no longer a mystery.

(Yeah, life is strange.)

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