Agave spp. or Century Plants are native to the southwestern states and New Mexico. They love our sun, heat and are very drought tolerate and endure our cold winters. They enjoy our sandy, well drained soils. They like to be kept quite dry with only occasional watering. Agave are an evergreen succulent plant that forms a large rosette form of thick, fleshy leaves with sharp points on the ends and along the sides of the leaves, which also makes them pretty deer resistant! The gorgeous leaves can be blue, green to silvery gray, some can be variegated with white or yellow stripes and some have white wiry hairs, depending on species.
Flower stalks can be up to 20', depending on species, but will rarely flower (15 to 30 years) for when they do, the “parent plant” usually dies off and the offsets (or suckers) carry on the next generation. The term “Century Plant” is a little misleading because the plant does not live to be a hundred years old or flower every 100 years.
Native Americans used these for centuries for a food source, fiber, soap, and medicine. Fermented liquids are made into mescal or tequila and those varieties are grown south of the border! They will also attract hummingbirds.
These are some cold hardy varieties and their mature sizes:
Agave hardvardiana | Harvard's Agave | 30” tall by 3' wide
Agave palmeri | Palmer's Agave | 3' tall by 4' wide
Agave parryi | Parry's Agave | 18” tall by 30” wide
Agave neomexicana | New Mexico Agave | 2' tall by 30” wide
Agave montana | Montana Agave | 4’ tall by4’ wide
Agave murpheyi | Murphy's Agave | 3” tall by 3' wide
Agave murpheyi v varigata | Murphy's Variegated | 3’ by 4’wide
Agave toumeyana | Toumey's Agave | 16” tall by 2' wide
Blue Mist Spirea
Caryopteris clandonensis are an attractive, compact, mounding and flowering shrub with fragrant powdery blue flowers that will bloom from summer to first frost in fall. They bloom on the current years growth, so trim back 1/3 of it's growth in late winter to get the best flowering potential each year. Blue Mist Spirea are native to Asia but have adapted here in the southwest very well. It loves our heat, soils, drought and cold. Blue Mist Spirea grow to be 2' high and 3' wide. Other varieties are Dark Night spirea, 2' high by 2' wide, and the Bluebeard spirea at 5' high by 2' wide. The late summer blooms are a vital source of nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
The Brooms are a large group including Cytisis, Genista and Spartium. This group does very well here in New Mexico. They have wand like green stems with sweet pea shaped flowers. They vary in color, size and shape; some are evergreen while others are deciduous. The brooms are considered drought tolerant after establishment and are cold hardy.
Capsicum has been grown in New Mexico for at least four centuries and has been a staple to many New Mexican diets since. Many types of Chile peppers are grown in New Mexico including the New Mexico types: New Mexico 6-4, Big Jim, Sandia, Joe E. Parker and Jalapeno. Chile is a warm season crop that requires a long, frost free season to produce good quality and high yields.
Cholla Opuntia cylindrica or Cylindropuntia sp. Are native to our New Mexico deserts and foothills. The are a shrubby cactus with cylindrical stem segments that are covered with barbed, needle-like spines, enclosed in a papery sheath. They have orange-red flowers in the spring followed by yellow or greenish fruits. They will grow to about 8' high by 6' wide. They love full sun and only require rain water which makes them very easy to take care of.
They are also a close relative of the prickly pear which makes for another good choice for New Mexico plantings. Properly placed cholla or prickly pear are great for security plantings. After a segment dies off, the wood leaves a beautifully patterned stick you can use a decoration or even firewood!
Hens and Chicks
Hens and Chicks or Sempervivum are tightly packed, succulent rosette ground cover that come in many shapes, sizes and colors. They spread by offsets that cluster around the parent rosette (thus "hens and chicks). They work well in rock gardens and our high desert region. They require excellent drainage.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.) are a very popular and hardy “true” cactus that grows here in New Mexico. They are absolutely gorgeous when they perk up in spring and summer and wake up from their winter slumber. Their flowers can range from red, pink, yellow and purple, even from the same species! Prickly pear have a fleshy, paddle like pads, that can be 3 inches to 2 feet long and green or purplish in color. The plant can be from 1' high to 7'-8' across, depending on species. From the flowers, come the the fruit of the prickly pear. The fruit is called 'tuna' and they are edible and often made in to jams and jellies. The fleshy pads are also edible, but prepare with care to remove all the spines. Prickly pear can be found all over New Mexico and the southwest region of the states. Some species prefer our mountainous terrain and some require the desert areas. These hardy cactus are a perfect choice for a southwestern landscape and obviously a perfect security planting.
Red Flowering Yucca
Red Flowering Yucca are a New Mexico standard that love our sun and can tolerate our soils very well. They form in clumps 3-4' tall and spread. They can produce flower stalks up to 5' in a redish rose color from late spring through mid summer and sometimes into fall. They also come in yellow flowering as well. Long blooming "Brakelight" is compact at 2' high and wide with brilliant red flowers.
Leucophyllum frutescens or purple sage, rain sage is quickly becoming a New Mexico standard shrub. They bloom intermittently from late May to October, often after summer rains. Flower colors range from pink to purple to white. These shrubs like full sun, well drained soil and is quite drought tolerate once established. Leaves are silvery gray to green and are soft to the touch and aromatic. They can grow to about 4'-6' high and can get up to 8' wide and will vary by species. Some of our favorites are Lynn's Legacy, Brave River and Heavenly Cloud. There are many gorgeous colors and cultivars in this family.
Yellow Bird of Paradise
Caesalpinia gilliesii is originally from Argentina but has naturalized in New Mexico very well. It's a perfect fit for us because they love our soil, heat and droughts. The efficient tiny leaflets of it's compound foliage grow on a green stem with a gorgeous flower explosion of yellow and red stamens. They are fast growing and can reach up to 10 feet. These exotic beauties will also attract hummingbirds.
Yucca species are the ideal accent plants for your southwestern desertscape and a native to our southwest region. Group yuccas with cactus, agave and a large moss rock for a stunning display. Yuccas thrive in our hot sun, heat and dry air, but also are cold hardy. They prefer our alkaline, well drained soils and are very drought tolerant. Yuccas are evergreen and grow from the middle, producing long spear like leaves, some with very sharp points. The leaves fold down the trunk, which you can leave or you can trim them for a cleaner look. Most yuccas flower repeatedly, but a few are monocarpic (flower once then die), like some agaves. New Mexico adopted the yucca flower as their state flower on March 14, 1927.
Taller Tree Types
Yucca rostrada (Beaked Yucca) are one of the best tall “palm” yuccas. They have long blue/gray leaves that drape down from large, well rounded heads. They can grow up to about 15'. They are very closely related to Yucca thompsoniana. Thompson Yucca are typically smaller than the rostrada, to about 6' and is said to be a little hardier. “Sapphire Skies” has gorgeous fine texture, light blue leaves.
Yucca brevifolia (Joshua Tree) is branched and slow growing to 15' -30' tall by 30' wide. Grayish green sharp leaves to 16” long by 1” wide.
Yucca faxoniana (Giant White Dagger) can grow to 15' – 20' x 10” with a massively branched trunk. Very thick, stiff green leaves that can be 2' -3' long and 2”- 3” wide with curly filament along the edges.
Yucca elata (Soaptree Yucca) slow growing to 20' by 8' wide. This one can be a single or branched trunk. Pale green leaves 3'-4' long by 1/2” wide.
Yucca schottii (Mountain Yucca) is native to New Mexico and Arizona. This one can grow between 6' – 15' and is often single trunked. Grayish green leaves can be 2'-3' long and 2” long.
Smaller Stemless Clumps
Yucca baccata (Spanish Bayonet or Banana Yucca) grow naturally in our state. It is a slow growing, short and spreading foliage clump that can grow to 3” high to 5' wide. They can be either a single or multi trunk. Their bluish green/ sometimes yellowish to leaves are sharp tipped and grow to about 2' long and 2” wide with curly white filaments on the edges. Large flowers are reddish brown on the outside and white on the inside on 2' clusters. Fleshy, edible, banana like fruits 6” long.
Yucca filamentosa (Adam's Needle Yucca) is another native to our state and is very cold hardy. They can grow to 2 ½' high by 5' wide. Flowers are yellowish white growing on very tall slim clusters to 4' to 7' high. 'Bright Edge' has yellow stripped leaves and 'Color Guard' has white and cream colored stripped leaves.
Yucca recurvifolia (Pendula Yucca) has softer blue green leaves and not as rigid and sharp as others are and has a more tropical look. Can grow to 6' and has white flowers.