The travels and adventures of Moby’s spawn — aka, whale’s tongue agave bulbils

After Moby, my 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 stalk.

I watched over them for a couple of months as they grew healthy roots. And then I started giving them away. Many went to friends here in Austin, but I also shipped dozens of baby Mobys (bulbils are clones of the mother plant, after all) to far-flung garden-blogging friends who have an affinity for agaves.

At the suggestion of a friend who wondered where Moby’s spawn swam off to, I made a map of the places I shipped them. From my home in Austin, Texas, those little whales went out all over the U.S., from Florida to California and from Ohio to Washington.

Kylee of Our Little Acre in Ohio adopted this Moby Jr., which looks happy in a pot with polished-stone mulch.

I recently asked the adoptive parents to share, if they wished, a photo and update about their Moby Jrs. Getting a baby agave through its first winter can be a challenge, and I didn’t expect that all would survive. (I lost two of six I’d kept for myself.) Aside from freezes and winter rains, I learned that squirrels, dogs, overeager landscapers, and even acorn peltings maimed or harpooned some of the baby whales. It was like a National Geographic special out there!

Tamara of Chickadee Gardens in Saint Helens, Oregon, shared the saddest story, having lost all of her agaves to an unusually snowy winter: “Unfortunately, my Moby-ettes did not survive this punishing winter we had. They were in pots (and sheltered, too), but we got down to 10 degrees for a couple of days, and not one of my agaves survived. I had three others in the ground, much larger, that succumbed too. I am ‘agave-less’ right now.”

How tragic to be agave-less! I’m sorry, Tamara.

In nearby Portland, Loree of Danger Garden tucked her agave pups in her plastic-lined shade cabana and hoped for the best. She wrote, “My Moby spawn arrived a few weeks before our winter turned nasty. I potted them up, put them in the ‘greenhouse,’ and then promptly forgot about them. Taking care of the garden plants — which endured repeated rounds of ice, snow, frigid temperatures, and record rainfall — took priority. Truth be told, I hadn’t really even thought of them until I got your email. That spurred me to climb in and see how they were doing.”

What?? She forgot about them? Not to worry. “They’re fine,” she said. “Once the temperatures are warmer and the soil dries up a bit, I plan to plant at least one in the ground, and then let the other one or two grow on in a container.”

In the Tacoma, Washington, area, Alison of Bonney Lassie popped hers in a greenhouse too, and while one shriveled, two survived. “They’re probably going to spend their lives in pots going in and out of the greenhouse every winter,” she said. “Putting them in the ground might be iffy. I planted a big whale’s tongue agave in the ground my first year here, and it succumbed that first winter.”

Indiana, of course, is too cold for whale’s tongue agave (hardy to zone 7a with excellent drainage) to live outside all year, so Lisa of Greenbow kept hers inside on a windowsill. “I probably should have started them in smaller pots,” she wrote, “but hey, I was thinking MOBY.” Her smaller one “looks so lonely in its pot that I put a couple of bits of trifle in with him so he felt comfort. They have been outside a few days and are already getting better color.”

In northern California near Sacramento, Gerhard of Succulents and More is already growing a big whale’s tongue ‘Vanzie’. Of his Moby offspring (pictured in the terracotta pot), he wrote, “It’s hard to believe they’ll be this big someday — and bigger because this A. ovatifolia is nowhere near its mature size. All three made it through the winter just fine. Some critter started to nibble on them in the last week. It must not have liked the taste because it spat out the pieces it had chewed on.”

I mailed a handful of pups to sunny Los Angeles, where Kris of Late to the Garden Party kindly distributed them for me to several L.A. friends, keeping two for herself. “Unlike some of my potted succulents,” she wrote, “the Mobys took our heavier-than-usual winter rain in stride. As more rain can’t be expected here until fall at the earliest, I’ll have to watch the babies through our long, dry period to make sure they remain adequately hydrated. They’ll eventually go into my dry garden near my more mature Agave ovatifolia.”

Denise of A Growing Obsession received a few pups from Kris’s stash, and she shared this amusing update in full-on Moby style: “Here’s the baby whale in his new pod, being taken under the….flipper of my ‘Frosty Blue’ ovatifolia, getting tutored in the ways of the world far from his mama.”

In Phoenix, Noelle of Ramblings from a Desert Garden planted her Moby pups straight into her garden. “One died,” she wrote, “and the other was accidentally dug out by my landscaper before I caught it. He may have mistaken it for an unwanted agave volunteer, as I have him take my agave babies out and let him repot them for his other clients.” (In which case, it may be living on in someone else’s garden.) A third one “is on a drip emitter and is thriving in morning sun and afternoon shade.”

Closer to home, Laurin of Ravenscourt Gardens in Houston wrote, “I kept the little Mobys in the house under a cloche in my garden window until it got warmer. Once I moved them outside, the squirrels decided to dig them up. So as you can see, I have thwarted the squirrels’ path and added rocks. They have good roots and are little troopers!”

Last October on a visit to San Antonio, I dropped off a flat of Moby pups with Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer and asked her to please share them with my Alamo City friends and distribute the rest as she liked. A Chicken Little situation ensued, as it was a mast year for the live oaks, which dropped an insane amount of acorns.

Shirley wrote of this pup, “You may notice he’s a bit lopsided. The flat you dropped off was whisked away to the shade of my live oak trees. Then a big acorn drop pelted them, and a few leaves were broken off before I moved them to the safety of the porch. Lesson learned, and they are mostly recovered now. It’s been fun distributing them to San Antonio fans of Digging. One little Moby even attended a meeting at SAWS so I could give it to Heather of Xericstyle. Another went to Robbi of Antique Rose Emporium when she spoke at GVST. There are some left for special surprises.”

Thanks so much for spreading the Moby love, Shirley!

My friend Melody received a pup from Shirley’s flat and wrote: “Little Moby Jr. is progressing nicely in his new home. His roots were surprisingly healthy and long when I got him from Shirley and moved him up to his bigger pot.” Looking good, Junior!

Here in Austin, many of my blogger friends took home a few pups. Jenny of Rock Rose wrote, “I left my little Moby in a pot over the winter. He is now in the ground in the front courtyard garden, watched over by an older Agave ovatifolia. He just started to sprout two new leaves, so I think he is well on the way. Come on, Little Moby.”

Tim of Xeric Front Yard has had to contend with exuberant pups — and not the agave sort: “My Moby pup is doing well after an uneven start. It wintered indoors near our big picture window. Several times when she saw a squirrel, my dog Junie jumped on the glass, then accidentally landed on the pup on the way down, flipping it out of the dirt. That’s the reason it’s not particularly symmetrical and is missing some of its leaves. My goal is to eventually have it be a centerpiece in one of the beds right outside our bedroom window.”

Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil noticed something surprising on one of her Moby Jrs — a miniature bloom stalk! I found a bloom stalk sprouting from one of my pups as well; apparently the flowering hormone is still active in some of the bulbils? I cut off the bloom stalk on mine to see if the pup would live on, but Lori is letting hers do what it wants. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out!

The funniest update came from my friend Linda in San Antonio, who received three from the flat I gave Shirley Fox: “The babies only made it to their new home yesterday, having survived in their short lives all the dangers of unseasonable, unreasonable cold, near-drowning in torrential floods, and death by asphyxiation and/or concussion visited upon them by vicious live oaks with their leaf and acorn minions! Having somehow survived all those perils, this intrepid trio still remained in the clutches of a Crafty Fox, and only arrived safely here after the payment of a ransom (Indian food, in unmarked quantities, no police, etc.)”

What’s this — a note from one of the pups itself?! Linda had me in stitches with this photo and continuing update: “But brave little Mobelia and the twins, Mobelina and Mobelette, have found safe haven at last, sheltering under the branches of a little olive tree, all within the protective walls of the atrium outside our bedroom, where a close eye can be kept every day, and lullabies and encouragement provided as required.”

See what happens when you name a plant and express its personality in silly blog posts for years on end? Actually, I love that my friends are playing along with the Moby adoration, and I especially love that they are keeping Moby’s memory — and genetics! — alive by planting his spawn in their gardens across the country. Swim on, Moby-ettes!


Even with all the sharing, I still have a handful of Moby pups remaining, and I’ve decided to offer them in a giveaway to 5 local readers who are able to come by and pick them up. For your chance to adopt a tiny Moby clone, please leave a comment on this post telling me why you’d like to grow a whale’s tongue agave, or something you’ve enjoyed about Moby. If I get more than 5 requests, I’ll ask a family member to help me choose based on the content of the comments.

Good luck, fellow Austinites!

Update 4/29/17: This giveaway has ended. And the winners of the Moby spawn are Carol from Katy, Annemarie Read, Phyllis, Gretchen Niendorff, and Kat Mathews! I’ll email you about picking up your plants, ladies. —Pam

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

54 Responses

  1. What fun seeing where all the Moby pups migrated and how they fared.
    Maybe by the time my Moby gets to be too large to handle the climate here will be 7a. Our winter was unusually warm but not quite warm enough for Moby. Thanks so much for the update.

  2. Carol says:

    Ode to Moby………
    There once was an agave named Moby,
    Who earned the love of “every Moby.”
    He went out in a blaze,
    Which left us all dazed.
    But he lives forever in our pots and our lots.
    (I’m sure I’ll get to Austin at some point if you will harbor a baby for me. Carol from Katy)

  3. I loved reading your stories about your whale tongue, and now it is great to see how one little plant has taken over the country :o) How fun! I love agaves, both because they are beautiful, and because they can take the summertime heat! I have two types in my garden, the typical Agave Americana, given to me by a neighbor, and a new (and really cool) Spaghetti Strap agave I purchased at a local high school.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Annemarie, I’ve never heard of Spaghetti Strap agave, so you’ve piqued my curiosity. I’m going to look that one up! Are you entering the giveaway for a Moby pup? You didn’t mention it, so I just want to make sure. —Pam

  4. Phyllis says:

    There is a Statesman-Moby in my neighborhood that I visit on my daily walk. A few weeks ago someone clipped his lower limbs, but surprisingly the newspaper stuck deep in his arms remains. That newspaper has been there for 3 years, so I wonder, do others stop to muse on what articles an agave finds interesting or amusing?
    I would be honored to have a Mobyette in my yard. Fingers crossed!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      First, I’m smiling at the image you conjured of an agave reading the newspaper. Second, I’m amazed a piece of newspaper has lasted outdoors for 3 years! Third, agaves are well armed, and it can be tricky to get stuff out that’s trapped in those spiny arms. At my house, it’s mostly magnolia leaves from the neighbor’s house across the street. —Pam

  5. What fun! Thank you Pam for the little Mobys and this look at where their brothers and sisters ended up.

  6. Alison says:

    This was such a fun post to read! I really need to get out now and find a couple of great pots that will show off my Moby babies as handsomely as possible.

  7. Gretchen Niendorff says:

    Pam, I’m a long time reader, one time visitor to your garden (last year’s tour). I don’t live in Austin, but in Denton. I will be visiting my daughter in Austin this weekend to attend the people’s climate march. I have followed the adventures of Moby a long time and never been able to find a pup locally. It would be thrilling to have a Moby descendant.

  8. Melody McMahon says:

    What a fun adventure post! Loved reading the little Moby updates and how they’ve faired so far. Linda’s comments made me laugh! Thanks Pam for including my little guy too. Hope they all live long and prosper!

  9. Kat Mathews says:

    O snap dragons…i mean ?!! Imma coming to city of keeping it weird this weekend to wrangle my 2 grands…kids that is!! I live near big D & love plants! I have one in honor of my momma (wink, wink) its almost mom’s day, so what better way to honor her than with a baby? Please, o please pick me!!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I like your enthusiasm, Kat. Good luck, and have fun with the grands! —Pam

      • Kat says:

        I have my baby sitting on my kitchen counter with baby aloe & 2 baby succulents.
        All in their own pots but having a get to know you meeting to see how they
        interact before they move in together. Im gonna put them all in there own pot, but in a
        large bowl. Will post pics later.

  10. Heather/xericstyle says:

    Moby lives! How cool to see all the little Moby’s. Thanks so much for my Moby Jr. I am very embarrassed to tell you this but I killed mine. Grrrrr. And I don’t know how. I treated him like a little agave but I think because he was so tiny i must have had to water the little tiny guy more than I did?
    I’m sorry :(

  11. Renee says:

    Aww, so cute! Id love a Moby pup, but don’t live in Austin. I guess I’ll admire from a distance!

  12. Jenny says:

    What a fun post. I imagine we will receive updates every year so we had all better be taking care of our charges. And I am so glad Linda P. got 3 so the girls could be included in the naming.
    Now to go out and tell mine it made the Blogging World News.

  13. catmint says:

    This post reminds me a bit of Johnny Appleseed. You can be known as Pam Moby Pups.

  14. Shirley says:

    Loved seeing where so many Mobys ended up. I’ve had fun spreading Moby love in San Antonio. Your email was timely in that I really, really needed to get those agaves to Linda P. and we had so much fun catching up.

  15. I am so happy to see all your babies and their photos! I think there is a children’s book here Pam! It is a fascinating story. I hope once it is warmer my little guys will start growing a bit. The squirrels are now leaving them alone : ( Yeah!

  16. Gerhard Bock says:

    This was such a great post. I hope you’ll do an update, maybe a year from now?

    Lori’s baby flowering is something else! I’ve seen this in offsets that are still attached to the flowering mother plant, but never in bulbils.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s really weird. I probably should have left the flower on mine too, but well, I was curious to know what would happen if I cut it off. I hope Lori will keep me updated on it. —Pam

  17. Kris P says:

    I’m glad to see that Moby’s progeny, by and large, are doing well! I’ve been surprised by the difference in the speed at which different agaves bulk up from infancy. Agave ovatifolia seems to be on the slower end of the spectrum, at least relative to my ‘Jaws’! Maybe those that start as pups as opposed to bulbils develop more rapidly? Thanks again for including me in the mass dispersal!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      A. ovatifolia is actually a fast grower here in Austin. Of course I’ve never grown one from this size before (ovatifolia doesn’t pup; it only makes bulbils and seed on its bloom stalk). Maybe it’s a slow starter, but once it gets settled it’ll grow pretty fast. —Pam

  18. ks says:

    A splendid post, and how great to see Mobys’ progeny live on in far flug places.

  19. Gail says:

    Who knew that when you first started talking about Moby that there would be fans and now progeny all across the US! Very cool story and delightful post.

  20. Robin says:

    Isn’t it fun for you to know that Moby is living on all over the country? I knew Kylee had gotten one, but wondered about her plan to keep it alive here in Ohio.

  21. Pam/Digging says:

    And the winners of the Moby spawn are Carol from Katy, Annemarie Read, Phyllis, Gretchen Niendorff, and Kat Mathews! I’ll email you about picking up your plants, ladies. —Pam

  22. David C. says:

    Hilarious to see all those “Moby spawn”, now all over!

  23. What a great concept for a blog post. I thouroughly enjoyed it.

  24. Peter/Outlaw says:

    What a fun post! It was great to learn the fate of so many of Moby’s spawn. Sorry I got my picture to you too late but rest assured, all three of the pups seem to be alive with one more vigorous than the other two. Thank you again for sharing the Moby love.

  25. Aaron C says:

    Thank you Pam, for your enthusiasm for plantlife and the information you deliver. Our Whale’s Tongue lives in a 4 ft high wall in southern sun in NC. It’s a whopper and this year, it’s blooming. The seed pods are falling and we didn’t know what to expect. I hope we live long enough to see another generation.

Leave a Reply