Plant This: Whale’s Tongue agave

Moby, my ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (Agave ovatifolia), sails through hot summer days in part-sun/bright shade, perched above most of the garden in a terraced bed. It’s a ghostly white whale of a plant, about 5 feet in diameter, an iconic presence in my former garden and in my current one. Pictured too are native flowering evergreens rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) and Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora).

A small web-writing spider has set up shop amid its leaves. Don’t you agree that the zig-zag in the web resembles the ghostly imprint marks on the agave’s leaves (from when the leaves were furled)?

Another look at the imprint marks running down the center of each broad leaf. I love this agave. Sail on, Moby!

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

24 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Yo ho ho, Moby is sailing beautiufully in your garden. The spider is a handsome addition. I haven’t seen such a small spider making this type of web. Interesting.

  2. Donna says:

    This is a beautiful Agave. I see them at the botanical garden, and WISH I could have this interesting texture and color in the garden.

  3. Racquel says:

    He’s very impressive! :)

  4. Scott says:

    I adore those…I would grow one in a heartbeat if I just had room!

  5. Moby is looking quite handsome there.
    I’m thinking if this weather keeps up, agaves and yuccas will be the only things we can grow.
    You’re ahead of the game, already.
    Stay cool.

  6. David C. says:

    Growing with the MX Oregano, “Moby” is stunning! The few I’ve seen in ABQ came right back from this winter…it is one of my favorite agaves, too. If I had to pick my favorite 25 Agave species, that is…

  7. Eduardo says:

    Moby is indeed inspiring – I recently acquired an A.ovatifolia for my frontyard.
    Thanks for the wonderful pictures.

  8. Love Moby and his little friend! Looks like the succulents are loving the hot summer.

  9. hb says:

    Though it was pure agony to move, aren’t you glad you brought it along to your new home? What beauty. My own is a seed-grown 3″. I will make sure to put it in exactly the right spot so it need never be moved, because I don’t think I could do it!

  10. andrea says:

    haha, it looks like that spider owns the whole plant by itself! The agave looks so healthy and well cared for. I am visualizing if a whale’s tongue is really shaped like that! BTW, i have been trying to know how that circle on the C to denote copyright is made, can you please teach me, LOL. thanks.

    Hi, Andrea. I’m sure there’s a way to conjure up the copyright symbol, but I simply copied it from the web somewhere. —Pam

  11. Cathy says:

    Moby is amazing, but then, so is the detail you captured in your photographs!

    I have a very special feeling about plants (like Moby) who have “pet” names. It lifts them from the realm of ornament and elevates them to the level of family.

  12. Jenny says:

    I think the part sun is helping Moby though the Texas furnace. Afraid mine suffers from the blasting afternoon sun and is showing some signs of stress.

  13. Yael says:


    Captain Ahab would meet his match with your stunning Moby. And Andrea is right, that spider, tiny though it may be, seems to own the plant. I love orb weaver spiders. We have one with similar coloring, but fatter, here in the Northwest. It is so fascinating to watch them weave their webs, and then to see the zigzag pattern they weave in the center.


  14. David says:

    Hi Pam,
    Great shots. That spider picked such an opportune time to live on your agave. Now it’s a famous spider all over the world.
    Sadly, I still haven’t seen a whale’s tongue agave for sale here in Houston. It looks like it rarely offsets…or never offsets?
    BTW: about the mystery agave I have…I tracked it down and it’s Agave ‘Blue Glow’. It’s a new hybrid that I don’t know much about. Manfreda/Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ is also on the same reference page so it was easy to see the difference. Thanks for clearing up any confusion. Here’s the link with many other Agaves for you to peruse. I know nothing about this nursery except for this one page of images. I’m glad they are so descriptive. Enjoy!
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston :-)

  15. Wonderful! Love the color and smoothness. I must admit that the blue hue agave reminds me of smooth dolphin skin (I’ve swam with dolphins).

  16. I read your post when you moved the agave! I am so impressed that you were not critically injured in the process. Wow!! With the temps we’ve had for the past 27 days and lack of rain and the way my garden looks right now, I think I might need to think about incorporating some agaves in my garden. It gets a bit discouraging watching the Rudbeckia and Phlox shrivel up day after day.

  17. Carri says:

    Ack- I wish I had more room! Moby is super cool! And the spider is too!

  18. I think that moby and its brethren have to be the coolest agaves ever. I love the stocky bold leaves an chalky blue color. It almost looks friendly, but i’m sure the spines would prove otherwise.

  19. cheryl says:

    I’m having “Digging” withdrawal symptoms! Long time between posts! I hope all is well and that you are just busy keeping cool.

    Thanks for missing me! I’ve been at the Garden Bloggers Fling and then on vacation in the Pacific NW and only just returned last night. I’ve got a ton of posts in my head about all the gardens I saw up there and can’t wait to share them on Digging. I’ll have the first one up soon! —Pam

  20. Monica says:

    Hi Pam, love your Agave and Mangave photos. Oracle Gorge is having an open house this weekend (Aug. 6 10-5, Aug. 7 10-4). I was visiting Bob and saw that he has quite a few impressive new goodies ready for the sale including a new Mangave that I will certainly be taking home! He said that the Mangave “Bloodspot” he has for this sale are probably the last he will have. If your fans can stand the heat, it’s a good chance to prepare for fall plantings.

    I got the email about Bob’s sale, and I’ll help spread the word on my FB page, Monica. He always has a great selection at his open houses. Thanks for the tip about the ‘Bloodspot’ mangaves. —Pam

  21. cheryl says:

    I can hardly wait to see and hear about your PNW adventures.Oregon is my 2nd home.. absolutely love it up there.

  22. eric says:

    Hey Pam – your blog is awesome! I bought a whale’s tongue yesterday, and I was going to plant it pretty close to my house, where it will get sun only about 1/2 a day, then the sun moves behind my house. I know that these plants would prefer the sun all day, but is it going to be “upset” if I plant it near my house? This is the first plant I’ve ever bought, so if this is a HUGE no-no, go easy on me. Thanks!


    Hi, Eric. Are you in Austin? If so, ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave seems to prefer a little afternoon shade in our hot climate, so your sun level sounds fine. The most important consideration is drainage. Agaves need good drainage, especially in winter, to prevent rot, so you might want to build up a little berm with fast-draining soil (mix in a generous amount of decomposed granite or chicken grit) for planting it. Mulch with decomposed granite rather than wood mulch. Water it well when you plant it, but since we’re moving into our colder season, you shouldn’t water it too much this winter—maybe once a month if we get no rain. Again, overwatering is an agave’s enemy. In summer it’ll gladly take more as long as it has good drainage. The final thing to remember is that this agave can get 4-5 feet across at maturity; keep that in mind when placing it near the house or sidewalks. Enjoy your new agave! It’s a beauty. —Pam

  23. eric says:

    Yes, I’m in Austin – my front yard is sloped, so the bed I made last weekend starts at ground level up against my house and comes out about 4.5 feet and ends up being 2 “bricks” high in the front. I mixed one 40 lb bag of compost per 40 lb bag of decomposed granite (the granite is a lot heavier, so obviously I’ve got way more compost in there than I do granite. But I will go get another bag of granite and spread it out on top after I plant the “whale.”

    I also noticed in your pics you potted it in such a shallow pot, but mine is in a pretty deep pot…hopefully the roots are shallow though and will stay in the elevated portion of the bed…it seems like it will stay well drained! Have you seen the Whale’s Tongue outside of the Natural Gardner on the corner there? It is HUGE and GORGEOUS and it’s the one that made me decide to get that species. It is tilted on a slope, so I’m guessing that has something to do with good drainage. I’m just starting to try to Xeriscape my yard…I’m gonna work slowly, and I’m gonna keep an eye on your blog – thanks for the help!