Thursday, February 20, 2014

Untold Stories of 2013: Unexpected Spikiness

While we wait for spring, here is another untold story from 2013.

Last summer I collected photos of several spiky plants in and around my neighborhood. Some of these spiky plants were unexpected finds in Plano, Texas. If anyone can make an educated guess at the varieties of these plants, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

The first spiky plant I photographed was this blooming agave. This agave is in the neighborhood just to the south of mine and I pass it every day on my way to work. I have had my eye on this agave since the terrible winter of 2009-2010 when all but one of my agaves turned to mush. I thought if I ever saw any pups on this agave, I might stop and ask the owner if they would mind sharing one with me. I never saw any pups, but I did have to stop one day and take a few pictures because this was my first time to see an agave blooming in person.

The flowers were incredible and filled with bees.

The flower stalk was probably around 15 feet tall. By the time I took my pictures, the lower flowers had already started turning brown.

A little higher up the stalk, the flowers were in full bloom.

And a little higher, the flowers were just starting to open.

At ground level, the leaves of the agave were already starting to die. I assumed that the owners would take down the plant once it finished blooming. I was wrong. It is still standing today. The owners even decorated the flower stalk with a string of red chili pepper lights.

There are a couple more agaves left in this bed. This one looks like a different variety than the one that bloomed.

Also in the bed with the agaves was this spiny plant that I assume is some type of euphorbia.

This large yucca grows in the center of a cul de sac across the street from the agaves. The long leaves are stiff and sharp.

On the way home, I stopped at an estate sale in my neighborhood. I frequently stop at neighborhood estate sales so I can check out the condition of the other houses in the neighborhood. Afterwards, I cut through an alley and saw these yuccas towering over a 6 foot privacy fence. It is not often that you see yuccas this size around here. Palm trees, yes. Yuccas, no.

A few weeks later, I was out roaming the alleys of my neighborhood again and spotted these yuccas growing high above this 6 foot tall Asian jasmine covered fence.

In another neighborhood just south of mine, the homeowners replaced their front lawn with gravel and planted a yucca that has sprouted several pups over the years.

This landscape style might be what comes to mind when some people hear the word "xeriscape" or mispronounce as "zeroscape". I suppose this lower maintenance landscape allows the homeowners to focus their gardening attention on their tightly pruned yaupon hollies.

A little farther from my neighborhood, I often turn my head when I drive by this clump of yuccas. I finally decided to stop and get a closer look. They are about two feet tall and have hairs along the edges of the leaves. I suspect this is Yucca filamentosa. The juniper in the background is interesting too.

Back at the homefront, I am adding structure to my prairie garden with more spiky plants. I found this variegated Yucca gloriosa on clearance at the end of 2012. I debated whether I wanted to add a variegated plant to my garden and where I would plant it. Several months later, I finally decided to plant it near my pale-leaf yucca, Yucca pallida.

I do not usually plant variegated leafed plants, but I think this one will blend in well with my garden. I like the way the leaves turns pink in the winter.

To add additional structure to the front garden, I moved a spineless prickly pear from the back garden to the front garden and planted a Yucca filamentosa 'Hairy' nearby. Hairy is camera shy and not pictured.

Still waiting to be planted are a Santa Rita Prickly Pear cactus that Tamara gave me 3-4 years ago when it was just a single pad. I am sure it would like to get out of that four inch pot. I also have a Hesperaloe parvifola 'Perpa' Brakelights that I bought in a moment of weakness. This variety has bright red flowers, rather than the usual coral color. I think this is the first Monrovia plant I ever bought. I usually ignore them because they are overpriced. I picked this pot because it had several plants that I should be able to divide.

As the years go by, the garden is becoming more desert and less prairie. Partly because many of my Little Bluestem grasses died out and partly because I needed some color and structure during the hottest months of the year. I am not really a huge fan of spiky plants. I am actually kind of afraid of them and prefer to admire them from a distance. Being a little klutzy and accident prone, I envision myself being skewered at some point.  

With all of these spiky plants, it may not be appropriate to call this blog Plano Prairie Garden any longer. I wonder what I could change the name to? Plano Pointy Garden? Mikey's Spiky Garden? The Garden of Pain? I need to think about this a little more.


  1. Love seeing the variety in dry bedding plants. We got burned---literally by the deep freeze---on some less hardy cactus/succulent bed plants.

    1. Sorry you lost some plants. This was an unusual winter. A freak ice storm in early December and roller coaster temperatures. The jury is still out regarding the fate of my plants.

  2. I was surprised you found so many spiky plants in your neighborhood. In recent years I have noticed them being added to commercial landscapes in Plano after the watering restrictions kicked in. These folks are ahead of the curve a bit.

    The blooming agave could be Havardiana or Neomexicana and I'm not sure about the other one. The plant that looks like euphorbia could also be Christmas Cholla.

    Brakelights is a beautiful color but the price has been a bit of a buzz kill so it's a smart idea to pick one with the pups.

    Mikey's Spiky Garden is my vote.

    1. My neighborhood is 40 years old and I bet those tall yuccas have been here most of that time. Maybe they were collected on some family vacations out west? If I keep up this spiky trend, I may need to see if I can get some pups. If the Brakelights take off, I may be able to share with you in a few years. I have a feeling they may grow slower than the regular coral variety. My yellow one is a very slow grower, but it does bloom longer. Thanks for the plant names.

  3. I'm a huge fan of anything that throws up a crazy big spike!
    Great blog!

    1. Thanks shbg. I can see why agaves die after blooming. It must take an awful lot of energy to produce those flower spikes.

  4. I think those tall ones are Thompson's Yucca. They're apparently native. I've been growing some from seeds and having really good results.
    Which might mean a lot of gifting, since I'm not sure what you do with 25 Yuccas that are that tall...

    1. Thanks for the comments, Tim. David has some additional thoughts on IDs below. That might be a little much for your garden if you had 25 of those tall yuccas, but I bet it would take quite a while for them to get that tall.

  5. The first Agave looks like A. havardiana, The larger Yucca is Y. rostrata. The taller green Yucca looks like Y. treculeana. The smaller Yucca in the zeroscape(ha ha) is Y. thompsoniana.

  6. Oh, I forgot to add that the older Yuccas were probably dug out of the wild in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas at one time. That's why you can see some older specimens in older neighborhoods. They are not dug like they use to be. Anything dug would be on private land nowadays. You can sometimes see the large green Yucca known as Y. faxoniana too. They have the filaments on the leaves unlike Y. treculeana. I could not tell what the large greens growing with the Yucca rostrata where because I could not see the leave detail but the other big green one is Y. treculana.

    1. Thanks for the IDs and the information, David. I checked my photos to see if there was enough detail to see filaments. No luck. I will research these varieties further.

  7. I'm late to the spiky plant find party, but I concur with Shirley, David R. and the others. I'm not sure I can tell Yucca treculeana from Yucca torreyi, and I hear they hybridize were they meet either side of the Pecos valley.

    The tall blue-green yucca (estate sale photo) looks like Yucca rigida. Most everything there looks very happy!

    1. Thanks David C. I was hoping you would put in your 2 cents. I


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