Goodbye, Moby: Removing a dying agave

It was time. Moby, my 11-year-old whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), valiantly hung on for months after flowering, eventually making bulbils at the top of the bloom stalk. I’d been anticipating the leaf collapse that has occurred with every other agave I’ve ever seen in bloom, and yet Moby continued to remain upright. Still, after that spree of reproductive energy, he was now looking distinctly unhealthy, with yellowing, rotting leaves on the sunny side, although on the shadier side he still looked fine.

I took these two pictures on Sunday as a final farewell, as I’d scheduled a landscaping crew to come remove him on Monday morning. And then one of our cars wouldn’t start (bad alternator), and we had to have it towed to the repair shop, and Moby got a last-minute stay of execution — or should I say euthanasia?

Yesterday, though, the ax finally fell.

These two hard-working guys came over after lunch and worked on the removal for several hours in 93-degree heat. They were surprised when I said I wanted to keep the stalk intact, which made cutting it down a bit trickier. First they cut out Moby’s upper leaves. Then they began sawing through the stalk.

That stalk is huge — and heavy! Worried it would fall onto our string lights or the bottle tree, my husband and I rustled up a rope so they could pull high on the stalk and sort of control the fall. One last cut with the saw, and the stalk fell with a tremendous thud onto the gravel path along the fence, crushing nothing except a few of Moby’s precious bulbils.

These guys were such good sports, posing for the crazy lady who kept taking pictures of the decimated agave and fussing over the bulbils. They placed the severed stalk in the lower garden, and I’m planning to harvest the bulbils tomorrow and see how many viable ones I’ve got.

Not quite as many as I’d hoped (much of what you see here is flower stems on bulbils that are blooming — how weird is that?), but enough to keep some and share with friends.

A cross-section of the massive bloom stalk. The base has a diameter of 5 or 6 inches.

The guys went back to work on the agave, using a machete to chop off the fibrous leaves.

They wore gloves, which was smart, but they forgot or didn’t know to wear long sleeves to keep the agave sap off their arms. Soon their forearms were red and blistering from the toxic sap, and I ran inside to get soap and wet towels so they could scrub it off. Thank goodness they didn’t get it on their faces. That has happened to me.

This is why Agave ovatifolia is called whale’s tongue. Just look at the size of those wide, cupped leaves.

At last Moby was “pineappled”…

…and they started digging and sawing underneath to sever Moby’s tenacious roots.

Finally free

At this point several big cockroaches scurried into the open, like rats off a sinking sink, sensing, I guess, that their home under those spiny leaves was no longer safe. Gross.

After several tries, straining with effort, the guys were finally able to roll Moby out of the garden bed and up onto the patio. I bet that agave heart weighed 350 pounds, maybe even 400.

Somehow they got it up into the wheelbarrow and rolled it out to their trailer.

Goodbye, Moby! You will be missed. But hello Moby Jrs! Stay tuned to find out how many clones Moby made.

This is my September post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness or changes are happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

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43 Responses

  1. After all of this time I am sure that Moby felt like part of the family. It is nice that you have all of those bulblets. What a trial it was getting it out too. So long Moby. I will be curious to see what goes in where he resided. What could take his place? He was definitely the king of the garden.

  2. Margaret says:

    Wow – what a monster! Good job you had help – the enormity of that job would likely keep it on the “to do” list for a long time in my garden.

  3. Jean says:

    Wow, just wow!!! And how strange about those flower stalks on the bulbils! I’m glad you took the pics. Those guys are heroic!

  4. Noelle says:

    Whale’s tongue has always been a favorite of mine and I have enjoyed watching Moby’s journey through the years. Will you be keeping the flowering stalk as well? They make a lovely garden ornament or can be put in a large, decorative container.

    I look forward to hearing how Moby’s children will do in their new homes.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m not sure how long I’ll keep the stalk around, Noelle. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to do with it. It’s the size of a small tree, and really heavy. I suppose when it dries out it’ll get lighter, but right now I can’t imagine a container that could contain it! —Pam

  5. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Oh Pam, it’s the end of an era. The Moby pineapple is kind of cool and it might have been tempting to keep it as yard art although it would probably eventually rot away in the wet season. Here’s wishing the best for the bulbils! I’ll look with fondness at my own tiny-by-comparison Agave ovatifolia today knowing that our days together are numbered, and treasure the time we have together even more. My FFU post is here:

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yeah, I think the agave heart would start to rot and get stinky pretty quickly. But it did have a cool look. My husband came outside this morning while I was pulling bulbils off the stalk and said, “Tequila!” Not the right sort of agave, of course, nor the right part of it, but funny nonetheless. —Pam

  6. Sorry to see Moby go. Glad you have his babies.

    He was so handsome.

    Goodbye, Moby.

  7. Great to see the process! RIP, Moby. Welcome chicitas!

  8. Layanee says:

    The garden never stays the same. I love the pineapple look and kudos to you for saving the stalk with the bulbils. I look forward to seeing Moby Jr.’s birth….Lol

  9. And to think you were once able to dig and move Moby yourself! Look forward to learning more about Moby’s babies…

  10. Kris P says:

    Tough until the end! He’ll be remembered, even when his spot is filled.

    Here’s my foliage follow-up:

  11. Ahh, the tragedy of planting agaves – monocarpism. Well, that and the amount of blood they draw over their lifespan. Good post. The minute I saw your guys with short sleeve shirts I knew they would be in pain soon. That sap is no joke. Like you I got some on my face once.

  12. Alison says:

    I’ve been following Moby’s demise on Facebook and here with fascination. I hope you get loads of thriving Moby Jrs. He was such a handsome, majestic plant. I didn’t realize Agave sap could be caustic. I put together a Foliage Followup post this month, it’s here:

  13. I will miss Moby, but will look forward to the new addition. It was wonderful that you got so much enjoyment from this wonderful plant, which is what gardening is all about. Thank you for sharing his story over all these years. Here is my Foliage Follow-Up post for September:

  14. Evan says:

    Farewell, Moby. This post really drove home how gigantic he was. Good thing you hired people to take care of the removal! I hope you get more Moby Jrs. than you think and they all find happy homes. My FF post this month is a combination:

  15. Laura Munoz says:

    I may not have commented each time you posted about Moby’s progress to the compost side of life, but I have been following his journey. I’m both sad and happy.–(S)he made babies, but I hate for him/her to go. I also had no idea about the agave sap. Is it only Whale’s Tongue agaves who have caustic sap or is it all agaves? (Maybe I’m asking for too much info.) Hope the bulbils prosper.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It does seem funny to keep calling it Moby in the same breath as talking about its babies/bulbils, right? Unlike some plants, agaves aren’t male or female, so the name really should have been gender neutral. But I couldn’t resist a Moby Dick reference. :)

      I’m pretty sure all agaves have caustic sap, but I only know about Moby’s firsthand. They do not lack for defenses! And yet the agave snout-nosed weevil can decimate them with ease. I’m so glad Moby made it to maturity, as Austin gardeners do sometimes lose mature agaves to the weevil. Agave americana and softer varieties tend to be more vulnerable, and so are certain yuccas and mangaves.

      I hope I didn’t go into more detail than you wanted, Laura. As you can see, I love to talk about agaves. —Pam

  16. Cyndy says:

    RIP Moby! Always learn the best things from your blog Pam. Never knew agave sap is such bad news AND better start saving for agave removal the day you plant it. What a project. Thanks for being the crazy lady taking photo’s every step of the way!

  17. Melody McMahon says:

    What an emotional roller coaster Pam! Funny how attached we all felt about Moby and watching his growth and now death was a full cycle of life itself. I used to want a Moby of my own but after seeing what it takes to grow one and then have it removed 10 years (or so) later I think I’ll just enjoy following yours in photos. Thanks for taking us on the adventure with you!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Think of it this way, Melody. A whale’s tongue agave (which doesn’t make pups; pups add maintenance) is very low maintenance aside from the end game. All mine needed for 11 years was occasional blowing to get the live oak leaves out. :) —Pam

  18. Jenn B says:

    He was epic! Thanks for sharing and inspiring me to get my own ovatifolia…still trying to decide on a name though?

  19. So glad you let us share in this long slow process that was the end of Moby. It has been fascinating and educational. I did not know about the sap and the size of the heart is amazing. Will enjoy following the adventures of Moby’s progeny. My foliage post is here:

  20. Anna K says:

    Wow – although I have seen your photos of Moby before, the sheer size of him didn’t really sink in until I got to the shot with the leaves in the wheelbarrow. Those guys did an amazing job taking it out! I’m so glad you were there with soap and wet towels to help them remove the sap. I had no idea agave sap could cause reactions… Good to know! My FFU post isn’t half as interesting, but here it is:

  21. […] whale’s tongue agave, Moby, came down last week. This week I’ve been sorting and planting bulbils (baby agave clones) from the bloom stalk. […]

  22. […] beloved whale’s tongue agave (pictured here at his 10th birthday party — yes, really), bloomed and died last fall, I harvested and potted up more than 100 bulbils from its bloom […]