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Cacti & Succulents

Agave Ovatifolia Care: Growing Whale’s Tongue Agave


9 min read

Agave ovatifolia, also known as whale’s tongue agave, is an evergreen perennial succulent that is known for its super-thick rosette of powder blue and gray leaves – a unique color combo! The plant belongs to the family of Asparagaceae and is a beautiful succulent for adding texture to coastal, city, and xeriscape gardens.

Native to North-eastern Mexico, Agave ovatifolia was introduced into cultivation by the esteemed nurseryman, Lynn Lowrey, from Texas in the mid-1980s. The plant is hardy and surprisingly withstands extreme winter. Its blue leaves will definitely add a wonderful tone to your garden.

Head on out to the nursery, grab an Agave ovatifolia whale’s tongue, and let’s learn to care for this beautiful blue plant.

Quick Care Guide

Agave ovatifolia in a xeriscape garden
Image of Agave ovatifolia. It’s hard to beat a low-maintenance succulent that looks this good. Source: Peter Howe
Common Name(s) Whale’s tongue agave
Scientific NameAgave ovatifolia
FamilyAsparagaceae
Height & Spread3-4′ tall and 6′ wide
LightFull sun to light shade
SoilWell-draining
WaterLow
Pests & DiseasesRoot rot, anthracnose, snout weevil

All About Agave Ovatifolia Whale’s Tongue Agave

A solitary succulent, Agave ovatifolia can grow up to 3-4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It has a rounded rosette with distinctively cupped leaves that are rich in texture, giving it the common name whale’s tongue agave. The leaves have small teeth along the margins and a inch long dark gray terminal spine. It’s is native to Mexico. This is a region in northeastern Mexico.

Agave ovatifolia whale’s tongue agave plants take about 10 years to mature and flower with a greenish-white flower color only once. They bear dense clusters of greenish yellow flowers with magnificent flowering spikes that reach up to 12-15′ tall. The rosette dies after flowering. However, like other Agave species, the whale’s tongue agave can reproduce via bulbils and seeds.

Whale tongue agave belongs to the genus of monocots that is native to the arid, hot regions of the Americas. There are many perennials of the same species that are closely related to the image of Agave ovatifolia. These all have small teeth along their leaf margins. The species name comes from words ovatus for egg and agauos, which means ‘illustrious’.

Agave americana, also known as the Century plant, is a much larger rhizomatous type that is tolerant to high temperatures and drought. It spreads by seeds and rhizomes, so it spreads into unwanted sites if not kept under check.

The second close cousin is the Agave attenuata or Foxtail Agave. Unlike Agave ovatifolia, this type doesn’t have any spike-covered dangers. It can grow 4-5′ tall with harmless, beautiful gray rosettes. These are from central Mexico rather than northeastern Mexico.

The third closely-related family member is the Agave tequilana or Blue agave, which is used in the production of tequila. This type of succulent grows flowering stems as tall as 20′. The greenish-white flower color is an indication the plant is nearing the end of its life as it is a solitary non-offsetting succulent.

Agave Ovatifolia Care

Close-up of Whale's Tongue Agave
Image of Agave ovatifolia that shows the striking coloration makes this a wonderful low-water choice. Source: edgeplot

Agave ovatifolia whale’s tongue agave is a drought tolerant plant. It’s also a winter hardy, and low maintenance succulent. Although the plants love full sun, they can grow well in partially shady areas. Ideal to keep as accent plants by a sunny window, Agave ovatifolia works well with well-drained soils and low moisture.

Light and Temperature

Since they are drought tolerant, the plants grow well in full sun to light shade in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-11. They are slow-growing and thrive on a bit of neglect, which makes them perfect for succulent gardens. The plants can tolerate more shade when the climate is hotter.

Water and Humidity

The Agave ovatifolia whale’s tongue agave plant’s water needs are low. However, with regular irrigation, they grow in size and colonize unwanted areas quickly. When you’re first establishing the young plants outdoors, water them every 4-5 days in the first month.

After that, regular irrigation should occur once a week, and gradually reduce the number of times you water to every other week until they fully mature. Once established, water them occasionally – once every couple of weeks in summer and monthly in winter – to maintain healthy roots. Give additional water only when the top inch or two of the soil seems dry.

Soil

Agaves can tolerate any well-draining soil; however, they mostly prefer sandy or rocky soil. The plants aren’t particular about the soil pH. If you can, make sure to grow them under sun from the beginning instead of transplanting.

Fertilizer

Agave ovatifolia whale’s tongue agave doesn’t need fertilizing. Feeding generally encourages the greenish-yellow flowers — a flower color that would mean death for the Agave Ovatifolia. Therefore, if you want the plants to live for longer, don’t fertilize them at all.

Transplanting Agave Ovatifolia

Here are the easy steps to transplant this succulent to your garden. Start by putting on heavy leather gloves as the plants have dangerous spikes on their sides. This is part of the proverbial image of Agave ovatifolia.

  1. Choose a nice spot in your garden with dry, sandy soil and full sun. Take it out of its pot and dig up a hole a little bigger than the root ball.
  2. Gently tilt the agave on its side and prune off any roots that look broken, diseased or mushy.
  3. Carefully lift the agave and set it upright into the hole. Add or remove soil accordingly so that the base of the agave is leveled with the top of the soil. Using your hands, back-fill the hole and pat down the soil firmly.
  4. In order to anchor the roots in place, place 3-5 stones spaced 2-4″ apart around the plant’s base.
  5. If the weather is hot and dry, place a shade cloth over the agave plant. Make sure to remove it once new growth appears.
  6. Water the plant entirely and give it ample sunshine.

Agave Ovatifolia Propagation

Agave ovatifolia can be propagated from seed and bulbils. As it doesn’t produce offsets, you can sow the seeds in early spring, when the temperature is 55-70°F (13-21°C). Make sure not to plant agave on roadsides or near pets and children as they have sharp teeth. Since they’re solitary, choose a well-lit, remote spot in your garden for propagation.

Pruning Agave Ovatifolia

The Whale’s tongue agave should ideally be pruned at the end of winter. Use a clean, sharp knife to trim off dead leaves, reshape the plant, and prevent overcrowding. However, cutting too much can stress the succulent and impede its ability to store water.

Troubleshooting

If you’re growing Agave ovatifolia whale in your garden, you won’t need to do much. As long as it’s getting ample sunshine and minimal moisture, it will thrive well on neglect.

Growing Problems

Most of the time you won’t experience problems with Agave ovatifolia. However, if it receives too little light, the leaves can become chlorotic and will eventually fall off the plant. Too much light will cause singing of leaf tips. Either provide shade for a plant in too much light, or remove obstructions to increase the light.

Diseases

This drought-tolerant plant is quite hardy and generally lives a pest and disease-free life. However, if it is overwatered or planted in soil that doesn’t drain, it could take on root rot. Remove any damaged leaves and stop watering your agave until the soil completely dries. In severe cases, unearth and transplant your agave to an area with fresh soil and better drainage.

Anthracnose is also a disease that agave can contract. Caused by the pathogen Colletotrichum, this disease is caused by the same conditions that cause rot. You’ll notice this disease when ring-like lesions and sporangia form on the leaves. There is no known effective cure for this disease, so remove damaged leaves as they crop up.

Pests

Watch out for the agave snout weevil that can lay its eggs in the plant’s center, which causes the succulent to collapse. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is remove the affected plant and check the healthy ones for grubs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are agaves succulents?

A: Yes, all agaves are succulents with large leaves that have spiny tips. Most have a beautiful rounded rosette with dangerous spikes, so be careful when handling.

Q: What other types of Agave can I keep in my garden?

A: Agave artichokes and Agave octopus are two other, distinct types that require very little maintenance and have similar growing needs as the Whale’s tongue agave.

Q: Is my Whale’s tongue agave prone to root rot?

A: Yes, if the soil remains chronically wet, the plant may develop some root rot. However, the occurrence is quite rare as watering is kept to a minimum.

Q: How big does agave ovatifolia get?

A: This plant grows to 3 to 4 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide.

Q: Is the agave plant poisonous?

A: It technically isn’t poisonous, but its leaves secrete a sap that can irritate skin and cause blisters.

Q: How many years does an agave plant need before it is harvested?

A: You need to let the agave mature and grow for at least 7 years before harvesting it.

Q: Does agave need a lot of water to grow?

A: No! In fact, overwatering is the basis of most problems with this drought-tolerant plant.

Q: Do agave plants need full sun?

A: Yes. Give them lots of sun, very little water, and extremely well-draining soil.

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