Agave (2015)

By Eric Driskill (October 2015)

PhotoAgaves are found in Central America, Mexico, the arid western United States and the West Indies. Members of the genus can be found growing from sea level to an elevation of more than 7,000 feet.

Members of the genus Agave have been used by the peoples who have lived alongside them for a very long time. Archaeological records indicate that species of Agave have been used for fiber since 7000 B.C.

For 8,616 years, these plants were used without a formal label until Carl Linnaeus established the Agave genus in 1753. The name is derived from a Greek word meaning noble.

Agaves, yuccas and their near relatives have been used for making cloth, sandals, rope, straps, fish nets, cradle lashings, rope ladders, baskets, seeping mats, brushes and brooms, medicine, food, soap, beverages and building materials. The primary use of agaves is for the production of fiber, which is strong and flexible. Fibers from the leaf margins and throughout the leaves are extracted by roasting or boiling the leaves to break up the tissue, then soaking them to separate the fibers.

PhotoMost species are monocarpic, blooming only once in the lives of the plants, with only a few species being polycarpic – blooming repeatedly throughout the lives of the plants. Agave leaves range in length, size, shape, colors and spination, and are arranged in spiral-forming rosettes. Rosettes allow the plants to divert precipitation down the leaves to be deposited at the bases of the plants.

Most agaves have leaves that are rigid, with some species armed with fiercely sharp marginal teeth and others with none at all. Almost all leaves have a rigid and very sharp terminal spine.

One attractive aspect of some species is bud imprinting, which results when the marginal teeth of surrounding leaves impress themselves on the surface of another. Leaf color ranges from bright, glossy green to dull gray-blue.