The genus Agave is treated here in a wide sense to include taxa previously treated as belonging to the genera Manfreda, Prochnyanthes, Polianthes and Pseudobravoa. Not all botanists are happy with this treatment, with some feeling that these genera should remain distinct, at least until further studies have been carried out. In addition, given the high species diversity found in Agave, some feel that an alternative approach could be the recognition of several smaller genera within the current circumscription of Agave[
Common Name: Lechuguilla
Agave gigantensis is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a rosette of leaves that can be 50 - 100cm tall and 80 - 120cm in diameter. The leaves on mature plants can each be 40 - 75cm long and 11 - 16cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be around 4 - 5 metres tall is produced, after which the rosette will die[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It is said that this species of agave was the most widely used species for food in its region and was also the best one to make mezcal. The plant also has a very high potential to be used in horticulture[
Agave gigantensis has a relatively restricted range and it is scarce, however there are currently no threats causing declines in the population or quality of the habitat and it occurs within a protected area. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2019)[
Many Agave species have strong, sharp spines on the leaves and leaf tips.
In theory at least, the flowers, nectar, immature flowering stem and the centre of the rosette of all Agave species is edible and, with proper preparation, can provide a sweet, tasty foodstuff. Some species, however, contain relatively high levels of saponins (which makes them taste bitter) and some other compounds which can cause bellyache, and so these would only be eaten in times of desperation. In addition, many people may find these foods to be strongly laxative the first few times they eat them[
Southwest N. America - northwest Mexico (Baja California Sur)
Sarcocaulescent scrub up to oak woodlands on volcanic mountains, growing on mountain slopes, mesas and cliffs; at elevations from 600 - 1,500 metres[
Agave species are found mainly in the arid and semi-arid regions of southwestern N. America, especially in Mexico, extending from the warm temperate zone to the tropics often at moderate elevations. Many species can withstand at least a few degrees of frost, but only in drier regions and where soils are very well-drained.
Agave species generally require a sunny position, succeeding in most soils of medium-fertility so long as they are very well-drained. Most species are undemanding as to the soil pH, though those found in the wild on limestone soils will grow better in neutral to alkaline conditions. Plants are generally very tolerant of dry conditions and of extended periods of drought[
Agave species are monocarpic, individual plants living for a number of years without flowering then sending up an often very large flowering stem and then dying after flowering and setting seed.[
This species does not produce offsets[
Individual plants take about 7 - 15 years in their native habitat, considerably longer in colder climates, before flowering[
Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[
This agave is used by people in the Comondú area of Baja California Sur for making mezcal[
]. Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage that potentially can be made from almost any species of Agave, though only around fifty are used regularly and seven species are especially favoured. Mature plants are harvested from the wild, their leaves and roots are removed and the remaining 'hearts' are baked (often in an earth oven), then mashed and the resulting liquid allowed to ferment for a few days before being distilled to produce mezcal.
Used for food[
]. The plant has a low sapogenin content and so is one of the more edible Agaves[
In theory at least, the centre of the rosette of all Agave species is edible and, with proper preparation, can provide a sweet, tasty foodstuff. Some species, however, contain relatively high levels of saponins (which makes them taste bitter) and some other compounds which can cause bellyache, and so these would only be eaten in times of desperation.
As it ages, the centre of the rosette (sometimes called either the heart or the head) is used by the plant as a store for moisture and becomes rich in carbohydrates. Traditionally, the rosette was harvested before the plant developed a flowering stem but as it was nearing maturity. The leaves were removed, but the leaf bases were left attached. The heart and leaf bases were then slow-baked in an earth oven for 1 – 2 days, which converts the carbohydrates into sugars, and the heart develops a very sweet flavour. The heart can then be cut into slices and eaten as is; it can be dried for later use; or it can be juiced and made into a syrup which could then be either fermented or distilled if desired.
The baked leaf bases have a sweet flavour but are very fibrous. They would be chewed to extract the sweetness and the remaining fibrous mass spat out.
A word of warning, however. People new to this food are likely to find that it has a strongly laxative effect the first time or two that they eat it.
Seed - surface sow in a container in a light position. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15 - 20°c[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of well-drained soil when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a sunny position until they are at least 10cm tall before planting out.
Offsets and suckers can be potted up at any time they are available.
Bulbils, where produced, are an easy method of propagation. Simply pot them up and plant out at the beginning of a growing season when they are 10cm or more tall.