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A Noble Plant


KIRK ANDERSON GARDEN


COLLECTIONS MANAGER


Agave vizcainoensis


T e bold iconic form – a spiraled rosette of succulent leaves dwarfed by a towering stalk laden with nectar rich fl owers - is more than merely symbolic. T e agave was, and still is in many regions, fi guratively and literally woven into the fabric of daily life throughout its native range from the southwestern U.S. and southern Florida through Mexico and Central America to northern South America and the Caribbean. Supplying food, water, medicine, building and textile materials, fencing and fi sh poison the agave was the original Super Walmart. While King Corn was being coaxed to glory from the ancestral grass teosinte, the agave was already reigning supreme and laying the foundation for the rise of Mesoamerican empires. Nine thousand year old coprolites (mummifi ed human feces) found in caves and containing agave fi bers attest to the inclusion of agave in the human diet. Discovered artifacts made from agave fi bers and tools made from the leaf-tip spines date back nearly just as far.


IDENTIFICATION AND POLLINATION


Agaves for the most part have very short, thick trunks or bases of meristem tissue obscured by the rosette of leaves. Some


6 www.LivingDesert.org


species, such as Agave decipiens or A. karwinskii, have upright trunks three to ten feet in height and others have reclining trunks like foxtail agave (A. attenuata). T e rosette of leaves is an adaptation to arid climates shared by variously widespread and unrelated plants with the leaves serving to funnel rainfall to the roots at the base of the plant. T e desert agave (Agave deserti), the only agave native to the Coachella Valley environs, shares its local habitat with other rosette forming plants - Our Lord’s candle (Hesperoyucca whipplei), Mohave yucca (Yucca schidigera) and Parry nolina (Nolina parryi). T e desert agave is the only one of this group with thick gray leaves in a basal rosette and yellow fl owers.


Agaves are known by several common names that are used generically. Maguey often refers to plants from central Mexico including the agaves used to make pulque, while mescal denotes species found in northern Mexico. Century plant is used for just about all agaves and is so named for the supposed life span of the plant. T e 200+ species, subspecies and varieties of agave come in a vast array of shapes and sizes from the diminutive Agave parvifl ora at four to six inches tall with a three foot infl orescence (fl ower stalk) to the impressive Agave franzosini capable of


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