Plant of the Week
Smallflower Century Plant (Agave parviflora)
By Charlie McDonald
As the name implies, smallflower century plant (also called Santa Cruz striped agave) has the smallest flowers of all the century plants. Smallflower century plant is also one of the smallest agaves. It grows for many years as a compact little rosette about 4-6 inches tall by 6-8 inches across. The leaves are about 3-6 inches long, bright green with a waxy coating, and with striking white markings called bud printing on both surfaces and the leaf margins. The leaf margins have stiff white curly hairs.
The term century plant refers to the agave’s life cycle and flowering characteristics. These plants, of which there are about 200 species, grow for many years as a rosette of leaves then send up a long flowering stalk, after which the whole plant dies. The term century plant is actually an exaggeration. Most century plants live 10 to 30 years before flowering; the smallflower century plant lives 10 to 15 years before flowering.
The smallflower century plant grows in semi-desert grasslands and oak woodlands. It is a rare species with a very limited distribution in southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico. The State of Arizona considers it endangered and protects it as Highly Safeguarded. The U.S. Forest Service has designated it as a Sensitive Species. Collection of this plant is prohibited without permits, which are granted only under special circumstances that contribute to conservation of the species.