This striking plant is an Agave stricta, also sometimes called a hedgehog agave. I photographed it at the University of California Botanical Garden at UC/Berkeley. It was really too bright out that day to photograph broad garden scenes effectively (too much contrast, which makes a garden look harsh rather than inviting), so I moved in close and took advantage of the high-contrast lighting. Such situations also often benefit from thinking and shooting in black and white rather than in color. A tripod and small aperture allowed me to capture ample detail and depth of field.
I've never met an agave I didn't like, though I've learned the hard way to treat them with respect. Those spines are mean. They not only hurt when you have an accidental encounter with them, they can irritate your skin. Beyond that, I really love agaves (and not just because they are the source of tequila). What compels me about them is the way one leaf imprints upon another. They start life as tight balls and slowly open up, revealing the imprints of adjacent leaves.
This one is an Agave parryi var. huachucensis (commonly called Parry's agave or mescal agave). It grows in rosette fashion up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter and is considered a good landscape plant in dry climates such as its native home in New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Mexico. This agave, by the way, is not the source of tequilla; that would be Agave tequilana, also known as the blue agave. And for the record, an agave is a succulent, not a cactus. A cactus is a different kind of succulent.
My favorite shots are often the simplest shots. Those where I can move in very close to my subject and just focus on the details that give it character. That was the case with this hedgehog plant (Agave stricta). Aptly named, I was first drawn to this plant not for the planting combination, flower, or shape of the plant, but for the spike-like foliage that does, truly, remind me of a hedgehog.
Photo ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Photographed at the Chicago Botanic Garden.