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[
This species has been often confused in the literature with Agave atrovirens[
Agave atrovirens sigmatophylla A.Berger
Agave bonnetiana Peacock ex Baker
Agave chinensis F.P.Sm.
Agave coarctata Jacobi
Agave cochlearis Jacobi
Agave compluviata Trel.
Agave crassispina Trel.
Agave dyckii H.Jacobsen
Agave ferox K.Koch
Agave jacobiana Salm-Dyck
Agave lehmannii Jacobi
Agave mitriformis Jacobi
Agave quiotifera Trel. ex Ochot.
Agave ragusae A.Terracc.
Agave tehuacanensis Karw. ex Salm-Dyck
Agave whitackeri H.Jacobsen
Common Name: Maguey Verde
Cultivated plant, coming up to flower, growing in the botanical garden of Eze, France
Photograph by: Tangopaso
Photograph by: Thuringius
Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication
Agave salmiana is an evergreen, succulent plant, sometimes with a short trunk, forming a rosette of leaves that can be 200 - 280cm tall and 200 - 500cm in diameter. Mature plants can produce around 30 - 70 spiny leaves that can each be 100 - 220cm long and 20 - 35cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be 4 - 8 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.
The plant is both harvested from the wild and also frequently cultivated in Mexico for preparation of the fermented alcoholic beverage pulque, a Mexican national beverage[
]. It is also harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of materials, and is grown as a living fence and boundary marker[
Agave salmiana has a wide range, it is abundant and even though it is affected by several threats these are
localized. The species is also present in many protected areas. 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[
Southern N. America - southern and central Mexico.
Xerophyllous scrub and dry forest, often on limestone soils; at elevations from 1,550 - 3,000 metres[
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Agave salmiana is a plant of drier areas in the subtropics and tropics, where it can be found at elevations up to 3,000 metres.
Requires a sunny position[
]. Requires a well-drained soil[
]. Succeeds in a range of soils, including poor soils[
]. Established plants are very drought resistant[
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.
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[
The sap is fermented to make the alcoholic drink 'pulque'[
]. As soon as the inflorescence bud appears (at an age of about 7 - 12 years), it is excised. The sweet juice which then exudes for the next 3 - 4 months is collected and fermented - up to 600 litres can be harvested from one plant[
]. Sometimes a brandy is produced by means of distillation of pulque which contains 4 - 8% ethanol.
It is also possible to produce sugar or vinegar from the sugar-containing juice[
The plant is also used to produce the distilled liquor 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.
The flowering stems are cut into sections and then chewed like sugar cane[
The cuticle of the young leaves of the central spike is used as a translucent wrapping for the Mexican dish 'mixiote', which is prepared for festive occasions[
]. The tough semi-transparent outer skin of the young leaves is used to wrap small parcels of food that are then baked or barbecued. This gives the food a unique flavour.
The leaves are a source of fibre used for making ropes etc[
]. (as Agave cochlearis). The fibre, especially that obtained from the youngest leaves, is suitable for the production of laces, fine clothes and foodwear[
]. (possibly should be footwear?[
The fibre obtained from the leaves is traditionally used to make 'ayate', a a loose-woven fabric used to make items such as nets, bags and various cloths. It is sometimes marketed as a high-quality washcloth that can be used to clean, invigorate and exfoliate the skin, or as an alternative natural scouring cloth for washing crockery, pans etc[
The roots contain saponins and can be used as a soap substitute[
The dried flowering stem is used as a pole in the construction of huts[
]. (As subspecies Agave salmiana tehuacanensis)
The dried leaves are used (as thatch?) to make the roof of huts[
]. (As subspecies Agave salmiana tehuacanensis)
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.