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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - June 06, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Leaves turning black on Agave americana
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants- We have a ~5-year-old agave americana that began to have leaves turn yellow (to black in some areas) just this past spring (2008). A neighbor's tree had started to overhang the plot it was in, putting it in substantial shade, so I cut away several large branches from the tree, thinking that lack of sun could be part of the problem. Is there anything else I can do?

ANSWER:

We really hate it when someone asks us about an obvious problem with a plant, and when we do research we are told this plant has "no serious pests and diseases," which is pretty much what we got on your Agave americana (American century plant) spots. One thing we did find out, from our own webpage (link above) is that the Agave can tolerate light shade, but really needs sun. But, we did find two websites that admitted there could be anthracnose, a fungal disease, in agaves that could cause those spots.

Michigan State University Extension Agave Disease Problems

Arizona Cooperative Extension Problems and Pests of Agave - This is a PDF document, and you will have to page down to Page 6, lower right hand column, for "Fungal Lesions." Anthracnose of agaves is discussed as a problem during moist conditions or occasionally when the garden is overhead irrigated, as in a sprinkler system or too much rain (hardly a problem right now in Austin). Unfortunately, a plant in too much shade will be more prone to fungal diseases because the sun would ordinarily retard the fungal production, drying out the moisture on the plant. The advice given for treatment is to remove the diseased leaves. And let us warn you, we have discovered that there can be severe and uncomfortable skin blistering from contact with the juices in the leaves when they are cut. Go prepared in long pants, long sleeves, heavy leather gloves, closed-toe shoes and maybe even protective goggles. Once a leaf has gone black, you can be pretty sure it is dead and needs to be removed and disposed in such a way as to prevent further spreading of the fungus to other succulents. This site did suggest one possible chemical treatment, but stated that its actual efficacy is not substantiated. We tried to find pictures of agaves with the anthracnose spots, so you could compare them to your plant, but were unsuccessful. In summary, more sun, less water, and cut out the affected leaves - VERY CAREFULLY!

 

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