Even if you are familiar with the desert agave plant, common to the Southwest of the United States, you probably have never heard of the agave havardiana. Kind of like President George W. Bush, this species of what Northeastern gardeners call the Harvard Century Plant comes to its Ivy League associations by way of the great state of Texas. If he knows about this hardy, resilient succulent, our forty-fourth president would no doubt be happy to be associated with it.
The Basics about the Agave Havardiana
The agave havardiana looks like a fiercely blooming artichoke. Hot pink prickly cactus-line needles line the havardiana’s array of spade-shaped elephant gray leaves. The havardiana is definitely not the plant you want to stumble over or onto during a nature walk. Although this is no delicate rose, it has a fierce beauty that seems to capture the rugged history of the American southwest in the folds of it tough leaves and the individualism of the American spirit in its unusual hues.
One of the wonderful subtleties of the havardiana is the imprints that the spiked leaves make on each other’s surface so that when the plant flares open you see these ghost impressions of the spiked edges of each neighbor on the gray tongue of each leaf. The pattern is delightfully intricate.
The Proper Care and Maintenance of the Agave Havardiana
Like any good cowboy, the havardiana doesn’t need much to thrive. In fact, botanists know the Harvard Century Plant for its ability to thrive even in harshly cold temperatures. If you’re going to keep this bad boy inside your apartment however, you want to be sure to keep it somewhere where it is not likely to draw the blood of curious hands. Although beautifully pink, the needles of the havardiana are quite sharp and will injure anyone who doesn’t carefully handle them. Like many cowboys, it doesn’t always take too well to domestication. (When you handle the plant be careful to wear gardening gloves to reduce chances of injury.)
You might also move your agave outside in the winter. Like a bear, the agave havardiana likes to hibernate until summer roles around again. It will probably do so on your porch during the rainy season, so long as it doesn’t get say Wisconsin cold. The havardiana is comfortable in temperatures as low as -5 degrees, but not much lower.If you do decide to keep it indoors, be sure to take care of it much as you would other agaves. First, be sure to give your Harvard Century Plant as much sun as you can. Remember this is a desert plant. Therefore, you want to keep it in front of a window where it can get soaked in light. Even if it doesn’t, it still does well. As I mentioned before, this is a highly resilient plant, so even though it prefers lots of sun, it will still do well even if you keep it in a somewhat shaded area. (If you are planting it outside in a very hot desert like area—like let’s say in Phoenix—then you might give it an area that is partly shaded part of the day. Although it is a desert plant, the havardiana is from the Davis Mountains, so the upper reaches of the temperature scale are a little outside its comfort range.)
Be sure not to over water your Harvard Century Plant. Let the soil get almost completely dry before you water.
Finally, you will want to repot your plant every other year or as needed so that your hardy plant will have room to grow.
Therefore, if you want a uniquely hardy agave that is sure to attract the notice of your botanically minded friends, the agave havardiana is definitely your plant.