A Dazzling Danse Macabre

OK, I admit that I am the jealous type. Every autumn, pictures of brightly colored foliage flood my blog and Instagram feeds and my internal green-eyed monster comes out in force. Although I enjoy living in a warm climate, those of you who live in areas with enough chill to bring out the fall colors, are showing off and I’m envious. Other than a few liquid ambers here and there, most of our trees are green year-round.  

So, in the spirit of “what about me?” I thought I’d share a few pictures of what’s happening in our front yard right now. It may not match the picturesque pigments some of you are currently enjoying, but I think it’s pretty sensational anyway.  

Our yard’s landscape is made up of mostly low-water, low-maintenance succulents and agaves. Those who may not be familiar with these plants might be picturing:

Common, and ubiquitous, crassula ovata, or jade plant.

But actually, succulents and agaves come in a dazzling array of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. Often their foliage is multi-hued, and some have blooms that blaze even brighter than their leaves.

One of my favorites is the Blue Glow Agave. It has chalky blue-green leaves that are trimmed with a ribbon of red along its sharp margins and is especially stunning when backlit by the sun.

It’s easy to see how this agave got its name.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and one of our Blue Glows is, sadly, reaching the final chapter of its life… but what an exciting chapter it is. After sitting quietly in our yard for several years, it has suddenly begun its spectacular Danse Macabre.

At first, we noticed what looked like a greenish-blue muskrat with its head buried in the center of the plant.

September 6. What is this in the center of our agave?

As that center growth started to emerge, it began to resemble the head of an exotic bird.

September 10.

Pretty soon, the spike was just a little taller than me. 

September 21.

After reaching what appears to be its final height, a little over 11 feet tall… 

October 17.

…it began to flower along its stalk. These blossoms have become a pollination party bar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  

October 22.

I don’t know how long the death bloom will last—maybe a month?—but since agaves are monocarpic, eventually the plant will die and will have to be removed.

But look! Just when you might think all is lost, nestled among the plant’s leaves are a whole litter of pups waiting to be removed and replanted.

Each of these pups are waiting to be harvested and begin the cycle again.

It’s the whole circle of life playing out over a few months. The best part is that, pretty soon, I’ll have the perfect spot to plant one of the new baby Blue Glow Agaves.

Let’s see your maples, hawthorns, and aspens do that!

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

129 thoughts on “A Dazzling Danse Macabre”

  1. I feel ya, especially since coming back to So Cal after living in TN for almost 15 years. Those fall colors are spectacular but, on the down side, are short lived and tend to make a big mess out of their annual death throes, unlike our own evolving desert plants. Yes, I really am still a California girl at heart.

    I have been doing a lot of walking in neighborhoods over the past year since I’ve been back out of which has come a personal WIP landscape redesign of my mom’s home. I’m thinking about a bird of paradise where her gardener has started pulling out the overgrown (of course) bougainvillea and have also recently become enamored of aeonium and pencil cactus. If I ever put another tree in the yard, possibly in the median between the sidewalk and the street, I have noticed that the many peppertrees hereabouts are colorful and don’t appear to shed much or get overly large roots.

    1. We are lucky that we can grow so many things here… and enjoy them year-round. Just in case you weren’t aware, the pencil cactus – both the all-green euphorbia and the gorgeous sticks on fire – have a very toxic sap and need to be handled with care. We have several sticks on fire in our yard, but we don’t plant them close to pathways and we wear long sleeves and gloves to trim them. We had a large California pepper tree in our yard when we moved in. It was pretty good size. I’m not sure about the root structure (it was close to our house and didn’t appear to do any damage to the foundation) but I do know it had a lot of suckers. Even after we removed the tree, suckers popped up here and there in our yard and our neighbor’s. It took years for that to stop happening.

      Have fun with the yard redesign! It’s amazing how new plants can change the overall look completely.

  2. Janis, it is really fun to read this post and to see this magnificent blue agave from the hinterland of the state of Oaxaca Mexico where agave is king! Agave as you know is the plant that gives Mexico its famed Mezcal and we have seen them growing abundantly in the countryside on our drive here.

    Your sequence of photographs is very cool and so unique, thank you for sharing it with us. I too love all the autumn colors and we thought that by going to Chicago in early October we would get to enjoy some of the foliage colors, but alas we were a few weeks too early.

    Love your succulent and agave garden. Beautiful.

    Peta (& Ben)

    1. I never could make myself like mezcal, but I love agaves! The first time we stayed in Oaxaca, we did the tourist tour of a mezcal farm and production facility… very interesting.

      I’m sorry that you missed the fall colors while you were in Chicago… but it looks like you had some nice weather. Now I’m enjoying your colorful pictures of Oaxaca on Instagram.

  3. Wow – that is so cool. Amazing how tall it got! I love succulents, but they don’t do so well where I live here in Wisconsin. Some do, but they are more of the ground crawling type. I successfully grew some in pots, moved them inside for the winter. We’ll see if I have any green thumb for them over the winter. PS – our fall was gorgeous this year – so many vivid colors, and I thought of you – last year you commented on one of my posts about the fall, so I smiled thinking of you and wondering what you see in the fall. I’m glad you shared this post. Thank you!

    1. How nice that you thought of me! We get some fall colors here but not a lot. Our neighbor has a huge maple (I think) that is currently bursting with color. That death bloom is still going, although the flowers are fading so the bees are less interested. Interestingly, the other blue glow agave in the picture from October 17th is starting to show signs of blooming. So, when this bloom finally dies away, we’ll have another one forming.

      1. Yes, I think of you often! 🙂
        I’m fascinated with the death bloom – that is so interesting. Makes me wish we had some kind of plant like that here in Wisconsin. Sadly though, it definitely wouldn’t make it through the harsh winters.

  4. I’ve never seen a Blue Glow Agave or maybe it is just that I never got close enough to one to see the colors along its edge…very striking plant.

    1. The leaves are very sharp so don’t get too close :), but the red strip along the edges (especially when backlit) makes the blue glow especially lovely. I also like this particular agave since it doesn’t get too big and it only has “pups” at the end of its life.

  5. So cool, Janis. We saw one of these in our new neighborhood and didn’t know what it was. Then one day it was gone. I guess it reached the end of its life cycle. Thanks for sharing these lovely photos.

    1. Our first bloom is fading now and we’ll probably take it down (and, sadly dig out the plant) in the next few days. We have another bloom just starting up on another agave. It’s definitely a bitter sweet event – the blooms are spectacular, but they signal the end of the plant’s life.

  6. Janis, what glorious photos of your blue agave doing its death dance. Whenever I’ve visited Southern California or similar climates, I’ve been very taken with the beauty of the succulents and other plants. Such gorgeous leaves and blossoms! In most parts of Canada that I have lived in (except where I am now), the blossoms are small and short-lived, although profuse, and the leaves are plain old green, except in the fall. Like Deb, I’ve nursed along jade plants, aloe Vera, lemon trees, and other “tropical” plants as houseplants.

    Jude

    1. I am constantly amazed at how many varieties of succulents there are. When I go on my neighborhood walks I enjoy seeing what others have done to incorporate all the shapes and colors into their landscaping. The other wonderful thing about succulents is how easy they are to propagate. Just break off a piece and stick it in the ground.

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