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 beaucarnei Lem.
Agave expatriata Rose
Agave inopinabilis Trel.
Agave noli-tangere A.Berger
Common Name: Rabo de León
Agave kerchovei is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a rosette of leaves that can be 90 - 150cm tall and 100 - 150cm in diameter. Mature plants can produce around 15 - 40 spiny leaves that can each be up to 100cm long and 5 - 10cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be 3 - 5 metres tall is produced, after which the rosette will die. This species does not produce suckers so, after flowering, it will die[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of fibre.
Agave kerchovei is only found in two location, and is declining across most of this limited range because of ongoing habitat conversion to small and medium scale agriculture and ranching. The plant is classified as 'Vulnerable' 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[
Southern N America - southwest Mexico (Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla)
Coarse, rocky soil of limestone origin, growing in open plant communities and also in disturbed habitats where soil erosion has occurred; at elevations from 975 - 2,300 metres[
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Agave kerchovei is a plant of moderate elevations in the semi-arid climate of tropical southwest Mexico[
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[
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.
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 and flower buds - cooked[
The heart of the rosette is slow-baked and then eaten[
]. 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.
The plant is used to make '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.
A fibre obtained from the leaves is used to make cord and rope[
]. The leaves are baked in order to extract the fibres[
Aqueous suspensions of the dry powder have molluscicidal properties[
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.
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