Fine Art

Agave shawii

Agave shawii, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Monocots
Ordo: Asparagales

Familia: Asparagaceae
Subfamilia: Agavoideae
Genus: Agave
Species: Agave shawii
Subspecies: A. s. subsp. goldmaniana – A. s. subsp. shawii

Agave shawii Engelm., 1875
Native distribution areas:

Continental: Northern America
Regional: Southwestern USA
Regional: Mexico
Mexico Northwest

References: Brummitt, R.K. 2001. TDWG – World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions, 2nd Edition

Engelmann, G., 1875. Transactions of the Academy of Science of Saint Louis. St. Louis, MO 3:314, t. 2-4.


Govaerts, R. et al. 2019. Agave shawii in World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2019 Jan. 05. Reference page.
International Plant Names Index. 2019. Agave shawii. Published online. Accessed: Jan. 05 2019.
The Plant List 2013. Agave shawii in The Plant List Version 1.1. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2019 Jan. 05. 2019. Agave shawii. Missouri Botanical Garden. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2019 Jan. 05.
USDA, ARS, Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agave shawii in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Accessed: 08-Apr-12.

Vernacular names
suomi: Kalifornianagaave

Agave shawii, with the common names coastal agave or Shaw's agave,[3][4] is a very rare and critically endangered[5] species in the genus Agave native to southwestern California and Baja California. The plant is named for Henry Shaw, the founder of the Missouri Botanical Garden.[6]


The plant is native to California coastal sage and chaparral habitats, along the Pacific Coast of northern Baja California state of Mexico and southwesternmost San Diego County of California. It is much more common in the wild in Baja California than in San Diego County, where urban development has essentially wiped out the plant's native habitats.[7] In a preservation effort, Shaw's Agaves were introduced into the Torrey Pines State Reserve and Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, California and have established themselves.[8] There is also large colony of Shaw's Agave in the San Diego Botanic Garden located in Encinitas, California with nearly 100 specimens. The San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center in Encinitas also has Shaw's Agaves planted as part of their California native plant xeriscaping. There are also some specimens in the cactus garden portion of Friendship Park, located on the border divide between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.

Agave shawii is a very slow-growing, small-to-medium-sized agave, with green ovate leaves 20–50 cm long and 8–20 cm wide, and a variable pattern of marginal teeth. When it blooms at the end of its life, the large, clubby inflorescence forms a panicle 2–4 meters in height, whose 8–14 lateral umbels are subtended by large purple bracts. Each umbel consists of a mass of yellowish or reddish flowers.

It generally flowers February to May, and as typical for agaves, the rosette dies thereafter. Although capable of reproducing by suckering, populations vary considerably in their behavior, with some consisting entirely of individual rosettes, while others form groups or colonies of clones.

Varieties and subspecies

Agave shawii var. shawii [9]
Agave shawii subsp. goldmaniana (Trel.) Gentry — generally larger, with longer (40–70 cm) lanceolate leaves, and 18–25 umbels on a 3–5 meter stem, and predominates in the desert of the central peninsula.


Agave shawii is cultivated as an ornamental plant, by specialty plant nurseries. It is used in cactus and succulent gardens, and for drought tolerant and wildlife gardens.

This agave species is frost tender, with damage starting at −5 °C and becoming extensive at −8 °C. Plants in containers have been able to survive 18 °F with no damage located on the Central Coast. Frost cloth has also allowed plants to survive well with temperatures well below freezing for long periods (days) without damage.

Plants enjoy a sandy loam soil that has good drainage. Roots are very rapid responders to rain and dry plants have been documented to start growing feeder (rain) roots within 3 hours after exposure to the rain. Plants are subjected to mealybug attack and systemic treatments should be used regularly. Plants develop best color when exposed to full sun along the coast. Some relief from the hot afternoon sun in the inland valleys would provide the best results for growers. A slow growing plant, the young may take 5 years to reach a good 2 gallon container size. Plants bloom from 30 years old on, with prolific pupping prior to dying post flowering. Seeds are best sown fresh with no stratification required.


Vanderplank, S. 2019. Agave shawii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T115690981A116354473. Downloaded on 27 August 2021.
The Plant List, Agave shawii
Engelmann, Georg. Transactions of the Academy of Science St. Louis 3:314, t. 2-4. 1875.
Clark, K.B.; Dodero, M.; Chavez, A.; Snapp-Cook, J. (2008). "The threatened biological riches of Baja California's Colonet Mesa" (PDF). Fremontia. 36 (4): 3–10.
California Native Plant Society
Starr, Greg. Agaves: living sculptures for landscapes and containers. Timber Press, 2012.
Starr, Greg. Agaves: living sculptures for landscapes and containers. Timber Press, 2012.
Ingram, Stephen. Cacti, Agaves, and Yuccas of California and Nevada. Cachuma Press, 2008.

CalFlora: Agave shawii var. shawii

Raymond M. Turner, Janice E. Bowers, and Tony L. Burgess, Sonoran Desert Plants: an Ecological Atlas (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1995) pp. 63–65

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