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 besseriana De Smet ex Jacobi
Agave concinna Lem.
Agave flavescens Salm-Dyck
Agave integrifolia Baker
Agave linearis Jacobi
Agave oligophylla Baker
Agave pugioniformis Zucc.
Agave subfalcata Jacobi
Agave sudburyensis Baker
Common Name: Espadilla
Agave macroacantha is an evergreen, succulent plant, sometimes with a short trunk up to 30cm high, on top of which is a rosette of leaves that can be 20 - 40cm tall and 30 - 50cm in diameter. Mature plants can produce around 50 - 70 spiny leaves that can each be up to 25cm long and 25mm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be up to 3 metres tall is produced, after which the rosette will die. However, the plant usually produces a number of young plants around its base that will develop as new plants[
This is one of the main species in the genus for making the drink 'mezcal', a distilled alcoholic beverage that is very popular in Mexico and is also exported. The plant is also harvested from the wild for local use as a food, it is used for making living fences and is grown as an ornamental[
Agave macroacantha has a relatively small extent of occurrence, a rapid ongoing decline due to the collection of mature individuals for mescal production, and the fact that all individuals are confined to three locations. The plant is classified as 'Endangered' 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 - southwestern Mexico (Puebla, Oaxaca)
Rocky or sediment-rich soils on mountain slopes; at elevations from 600 - 1,700 metres[
]. Deciduous tropical forest and xerophytic scrub, growing in limestone, saline or gypsum soils; at elevations from 700 - 1,600 metres[
|Other Uses Rating
|Bats, Moths, Hummingbirds
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[
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[
This species sometimes forms bulbils along the flowering stems.
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[
Flower buds - cooked[
The plant is used in the production of mescal[
]. 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.
The plant is grown as a living fence around agricultural fields, where it serves to keep out livestock[
Occasionally, whole plants, mixed with other agave species, are used as a live fence[
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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