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[
Agave bakeri H.Ross
Agave corderoyi Verschaff. ex Baker
Agave laxa Salm-Dyck
Common Name: Cachitún
Agave karwinskii is an evergreen, succulent plant forming a dense rosette of leaves upon a short trunk that can be 30 - 70cm tall. The rosette can be 60 - 100cm tall and 100 - 150cm in diameter. Mature plants can consist of around 80 - 100 spiny leaves that can each be up 40 - 60cm long and 2 - 4cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be up to 3 - 4 metres tall is produced, after which the rosette will die. However, the plant usually produces a number of suckers around its base that will develop as new plants[
This is one of the most sought after species for commercial use in mezcal production, a distilled alcoholic beverage that is very popular in Mexico and is also exported. It is harvested from the wild on a large scale, often with some degree of management, and is also cultivated, especially in living fences[
Agave karwinskii is only known from two to four locations, and population numbers are declining steeply due to the rapidly increasing demand for mature individuals for use in mescal production. The plant is classified as 'Vulnerable' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2019), and if current extraction rates continue, it will need to be reassessed[
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[
Southern N America - southwest Mexico (Oaxaca, Puebla)
Grows in clonal clumps in shallow stony soil within arid hill regions[
]. Xerophilous scrub, deciduous tropical forest, in limestone or sandy sedimentary soil.; at elevations from 900 - 1,500 metres[
|Other Uses Rating
|Cultivated, Semi-cultivated, Wild
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 karwinskii is one of the most sought after species for commercial use in mezcal production and is often cultivated. The cultivated forms are larger than the wild, they can be up to 3 metres tall, have a greater number of leaves and both the living leaves and dead dry ones are persistent along the entire stem; the flowering period is also longer from August to February in Mexico[
Most Agave species are monocarpic, individual rosettes living for a number of years without flowering before sending up an often very large flowering stem and then dying after flowering and setting seed. This species, however, produces a number of new rosettes from suckers or offsets during its lifespan and these new plants will continue to grow after the death of the parent plant. Over time, some species can form extensive clonal colonies by this means[
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[
Flowers - cooked[
This is one of the most exploited species of Agave in the production of mescal due to its organoleptic properties. As the mescal industry grows, demand for Agave karwinskii also increases[
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage that can be made from almost any species of Agave, though around seven species, including this one, 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.
As a medicine to neutralize viper bites, the terminal spine is cut and incisions are made around the wound[
The plant is grown in living fences to provide stock-proof barriers for cultivated fields[
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.