Agave colorata, also known as Mescal Ceniza, is an agave native to the mountainous regions of central Mexico. This drought-tolerant plant thrives in sunny locations, and its large rosettes of long and narrow leaves have earned it the nickname Mescal Sword in many places across its natural range.
While not often seen outside of its homeland, Agave colorata has been cultivated by several generations of horticulturists, resulting in a wide variety of available cultivars with unique leaf shapes and patterns.
Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata) is an agave species endemic to the northeastern region of Mexico, including the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, and northern Veracruz. This plant was formerly classified as Agave parryi var. colorata but was reclassified as a distinct species in 2014 based on genetic analysis.
Agave colorata belongs to the Agavaceae family of flowering plants native to Mexico. It’s sometimes confused with the similar-looking agave americana or American aloe (also from the Agavaceae family) but agave colorata has harder and smaller leaves that are somewhat rectangular with pointed tips and margins and are about 2–4 inches long by 1/3–1/2 inch wide; they are usually dark green in color but may be tinged red on new growth near the base of the plant.
Origin and distribution
Agave colorata species is endemic to central Mexico. It occurs in isolated populations, growing on limestone hills and mountains, from central Tamaulipas to southern Puebla. There are also small outlying populations in Durango and eastern San Luis Potosí.
Agave colorata grows at elevations between 400 and 2500 meters, with some variation depending on locality and habitat. The plant is found primarily in semi-arid environments. In most areas it grows in open rocky habitats, but it can also be found growing on steep slopes and among shrubs such as Baccharis salicifolia and Sclerocactus brevispinus.
Agave colorata propagation
Agave colorata is a fast-growing plant that propagates by stem cuttings. Cut off pieces of leaves and leaf bases with at least four leaf segments on them, letting them sit in water overnight until they have perked up a bit. Then stick them into sand or potting soil and let them grow for at least two months before transplanting.
The young plants can be transplanted after two months; keep in mind that it might take up to eight months for more substantial roots to form. These plants are extremely hardy, so if you live in an area where temperatures don’t fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius), you should consider planting your agaves outside.
Otherwise, put them in pots or raised beds so that you can move them indoors during cold spells. In general, agaves prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. However, they do not like their roots to dry out, keep them well watered!
Agave colorata care information
Mescal ceniza is a cold-growing plant from Mexico. The dry climate in which it grows and its natural hardiness makes it an ideal candidate for desert landscapes. Its ability to withstand drought has made it ideal for landscaping in southern California, where summer temperatures regularly reach triple digits.
Agave colorata prefers full sun to partial shade. It will tolerate all but full shade. In climates with wet winters and dry summers, mescal ceniza might need winter protection.
It grows best when exposed to full sunlight with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
Because of its large leaves, Agave colorata requires a large pot to maintain a healthy root zone. When planting agaves, mix 50 percent potting soil with 25 percent sand and 25 percent organic compost or fertilizer.
Because Mescal Ceniza is used to dry conditions in its native habitat, it can easily be killed by overwatering or poor drainage. The best potting media for agaves is coarse sand and rock.
During their growing phase, agaves need to be watered often. The rule of thumb is that they should never be allowed to dry out completely, as they are prone to rot if given any extended time without water. However, in hot climates, agaves may require less frequent watering during their dormant period.
Just make sure you check on them at least once a month and give them a good soaking. If you’re unsure about how much water your plant needs, use a soil moisture meter or just stick your finger into the soil, if it feels moist at all, don’t worry about watering it yet.
Agave colorata need little water because they store it in their succulent leaves.
But they will still rot if they sit in soggy soil, so be sure to water slowly and deeply so that their roots absorb as much moisture as possible without sitting in excess water.
Apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer at planting and again in early spring. If you’re growing your agave in a container, make sure to choose a potting mix formulated for succulents.
They prefer normal room temperature. Be sure to store your mescal ceniza where it will not be exposed to heat or direct sunlight and away from other objects that might stain, scratch, or otherwise damage it. Also, keep in mind that extreme temperatures can irreparably damage some glass pieces.
The optimum temperature for germination is between 24 and 28°C. Higher temperatures will inhibit germination and lower temperatures may also inhibit it but to a lesser extent.
The seeds should not be subjected to temperatures under 15°C or over 32°C as these are detrimental to proper germination.
Agave colorata can tolerate temperatures between 40 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but it performs best in warm environments that rarely drop below 60 degrees F.
Mescal ceniza, also known as agave colorata, can handle a wide range of climate conditions. The plant thrives in a desert-like environment with low humidity and little rainfall. Yet it grows well in humid areas, such as Hawaii and Florida.
In these regions, it requires ample drainage to prevent root rot from overwatering and freezing during cold winters.
The ideal humidity range is between 30 and 50%. A lower level creates an environment too dry for optimal growth, while a higher level can lead to root rot.
By removing spent leaves, pruning your Agave colorata plants encourages new growth and ensures that they remain compact and lush. Keeping your Agaves healthy also reduces their susceptibility to pests and disease.
When the time to prune comes, simply snip off any dead or damaged leaves with a pair of scissors, don’t use clippers, as they can damage live leaf tissue. Do not cut back past an elbow in older stalks; do not cut into green tissue.
When to repot
Repot your Agave colorata every spring, or if it’s rootbound. To check for rootbound plants, lightly tug on them. If you feel resistance, repot your plant. You can also tell that a plant is rootbound by its leaves, if they look like they’re reaching out and begging for more space, it’s time to repot.
Another way to tell is by how much dirt is in your pot, if there are any bare roots showing at all, then it needs to be transplanted into a larger container.
A dormant agave is either an immature plant or a more mature plant that is going through some sort of dormancy. Either way, you can’t cut it from its roots until it has gone through its dormancy period and it will have started to grow again.
A good way to tell if your plant has gone dormant is that its leaves will have died back in October and won’t start growing again until April. This is a natural cycle for most agaves but there are some exceptions. If your plant hasn’t flowered by September then it probably isn’t dormant and you should be able to take cuttings at any time during the year.
Agave colorata flower & fragrance
These flowers are funnel-shaped with corollas that can range from white to yellowish in color. The fragrance is sweet, reminiscent of roasted agave.
This agave is said to grow very slowly, only growing around 3-4 inches per year. Thus, it can take up to 8 years for a mature plant to form. However, even then it takes at least 5 years before it will begin blooming and produce flowers and seeds. The flowering stage generally lasts 2 years so plants are long-lived under ideal conditions.
Agave colorata mescal ceniza is thought to be toxic because it contains saponins. These compounds may cause gastric distress, especially when consumed in large quantities.
Although toxicosis symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea within a few hours of ingestion, no reports of death exist, resulting from the consumption of Agave colorata.
In addition to causing gastrointestinal problems, saponins can have negative effects on red blood cells and disrupt cell membrane function.
USDA hardiness zones
Agave colorata thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. In colder climates, grow it as a container plant and bring it indoors during winter.
Pests and diseases
Agave colorata, like all agaves, is susceptible to a number of pests and diseases. Luckily, it is resistant to nearly all diseases that plague some of its more popular cousins such as SAG milleri, sac fungus, and root rot. It is also one of few Agave species that has no known viruses or insect pests. In general, agaves are more tolerant of heat and cold than many other succulents.
Mescal ceniza is also known to be susceptible to rot caused by a number of fungi and bacteria, with Botrytis cinerea being especially problematic. In addition, phytophthora blight has been recorded attacking both mature and immature plants in Europe.
Aphids, mealybugs, leaf hoppers, and plant bugs are common pests that tend to feed on agaves and can eventually weaken them if not controlled. Mice have also been known to eat them at times too, particularly when they are weak or dying.
With its distinctive mescal agave coloration, a mostly monocarpic slow-growing agave is highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike. Like most agaves, there are threats to over-collection in addition to climate change and habitat destruction. As such, it’s important to know whether agave is likely to die naturally before removing it from its ecosystem.