Agave bracteosa, also known as the spider agave, is a hardy succulent native to the dry desert regions of central Arizona. Also called “bristly agave” for its sharp, spiny leaves and tough skin that can withstand extreme temperatures, it also has been used in traditional medicine. The consensus seems to be that this plant is clearly one of the toughest in the world of succulents.
The spider agave plant is part of the Agave genus, which makes up an estimated 85% to 90% of all cultivated plants and has spread throughout Latin America and into subtropical regions like Florida. This region was once dominated by a varied ecosystem with many varieties of agaves until about 60 years ago.
The agave bracteosa is a monocot that produces an inflorescence or flower spike.
Origin and description of agave bracteosa
The spider agave is said to have been cultivated by the Aztec in central Mexico over 2000 years ago and may be one of their most important plants, with up to 500 varieties known. These are thought to represent different natural populations rather than being pure cultivars.
The sap of Agave bracteosa can be used as a sweetener, but it is the flower that has medicinal uses.
Known for its healing properties in traditional medicine and still popular today thanks to low toxicity, this plant may have been cultivated by ancient civilizations such as the Maya and the Aztec.
The leaves contain a saponin that can be used when mixed with water or alcohol to create an antiseptic skin cleanser.
How to propagate Agave bracteosa ‘spider agave’
These offsets will grow into new plants with some time. Remove any rosette of leaves until you get to the base, where it looks like a green ball. Then, remove the offsets with a sharp knife, then immediately put them in fresh potting soil or water to avoid dehydration and replant into a new container of soil from cuttings.
The Agave bracteosa can also be propagated by taking a stem cutting, removing the leaves from the bottom 20cm of the plant, and dipping it in rooting hormones.
The base should then be planted into well-drained soil with morning sun or afternoon shade. It will take about three weeks for new roots to form before transplanting them to a pot.
General care information for the Agave bracteosa ‘spider agave’
Agaves love full sun and are very sensitive to shade. Agave plants grown in partial or even deep shade will become spindly, weak, and unable to flower.
In the wild, plants are often found growing in open areas that get plenty of sunlight. The larger species like Agave americana can tolerate shade for a while but will eventually grow taller than small shrubs and trees to reach more light – unless they’re allowed to flower and die off naturally.
When grown as a pot plant, it’s best to use a fast-draining mix that is only half peat moss (high in organic matter) and the rest should be some sort of coarse sand. When planted directly into the ground, they’re happiest with dry soil rich in limestone gravel or decomposed granite for good drainage.
Agave bracteosa requires moderate water. Although it is drought tolerant, this does not mean that you should let the plant dry up completely before watering again. The soil needs to be kept moist but never saturated or wet for long periods of time as these conditions are harmful and can lead to root rot.
Before planting in a pot make sure you have a container that will be able to accommodate the plant and provide adequate drainage.
The soil of an Agave bracteosa should not be allowed to dry out completely but it also shouldn’t remain wet for long periods of time as excess water can lead to root rot. To avoid this, make sure your pot has good drainage so excess water can drain away.
A fertilizer is not necessary for an Agave bracteosa. This is because agaves are xerophytes and as such don’t require fertilizer, though they do need a little bit of water to thrive so it’s best to maintain your soil at a moist level but never wet.
An Agave bracteosa, or spider agave, can do well in a variety of temperatures as long as it is not exposed to heat over 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
The plant thrives best at an average room temperature, between 55-85oF (12-30oC).
The plant thrives best in an environment with low humidity and good drainage. It doesn’t need to be watered often but if the pot dries out make sure to soak or water thoroughly so that you don’t encourage root rot.
Agaves thrive best when they are not disturbed and should only be transplanted during spring and fall.
The Agave bracteosa plant doesn’t need to be pruned, trimmed, or cut for any reason as long as it is given adequate light and water.
Although the spider agave plant isn’t dangerous, it’s best to avoid eating any part of it as some have said it contains a sap that can cause stomach upset or vomiting if ingested in large quantities.
Pests and diseases
Agaves are generally resistant to pests and diseases.
Although it is resistant to pests and diseases if you’d like to help prevent any problems from occurring, make sure the soil remains moist but never wet as this will discourage bugs or other unwanted visitors.