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Useful Temperate Plants

Agave lechuguilla

Torr.

Asparagaceae


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[
1855
Title
Two new species of Manfreda Salisb. (Agavaceae) from the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
Publication
Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 135(2), 2008, pp. 168-177
Author
Hernández-Sandoval L., Orellana R. & Carnevali G.
Website
http://dx.doi.org/10.3159/08-RA-023.1
Publisher
 
Year
2008
ISBN
 
Description
 
].

+ Synonyms

Agave heteracantha Jacobi

Agave lophantha tamaulipasana A.Berger

Agave multilineata Baker

Agave poselgeri Salm-Dyck

Agave univittata tamaulipasana (A.Berger) Jacobson

Common Name: Lechuguilla

No Image.

General Information

Agave lechuguilla is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a rosette of leaves around 30 - 50cm high and 40 - 60cm wide. The leaves of mature plants can each be 30 - 50cm long and 3 - 4cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be up to 2 - 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. Plants are often found growing in very dense clusters, especially on rocky, limestone soils[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
,
1844
Title
Agave Agavaceae
Publication
Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons, pp 21-311
Author
Thiede J.
Website
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-56486-8_111
Publisher
Springer Nature
Year
2020
ISBN
 
Description
 
]
The plant is cultivated and also harvested from the wild, often on a commercial scale, for use as a source of 'ixtle' fibre[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
]. It is also utilized locally as a food, medicine and source of materials. It is reported that in Mexico almost one million people depend on this species to produce handicrafts or industrial articles[
317
Title
Mansfeld's Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Plants
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:4292127278597336
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Terse details of a huge range of useful plants.
].
Agave lechuguilla has a wide range across Mexico and the southern US states of New Mexico and Texas. Even though the species is collected, it has good recovery and the overall population is stable. It also occurs within protected areasThe plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2019)[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
].

Known Hazards

The plant is said to be poisonous to cattle, sheep and goats[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
,
1844
Title
Agave Agavaceae
Publication
Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons, pp 21-311
Author
Thiede J.
Website
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-56486-8_111
Publisher
Springer Nature
Year
2020
ISBN
 
Description
 
].
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[
1846
Title
The Agaves of Baja California
Publication
Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences, No. 130,
Author
Gentry H.S.
Publisher
California Academy of Sciences; San Francisco
Year
1978
ISBN
0068-5461
Description
 
].

Botanical References

1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
,
1844
Title
Agave Agavaceae
Publication
Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons, pp 21-311
Author
Thiede J.
Website
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-56486-8_111
Publisher
Springer Nature
Year
2020
ISBN
 
Description
 

Range

Southwestern N. America - southern New Mexico to central Mexico

Habitat

Desert habitats preferring limestone soils and alluvial soils in xerophyllous scrub, the limit of the distribution goes up to Pine and Juniper forests; at elevations from 700 - 2,300 metres[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
].

Properties

Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Edibility Rating *  *
Medicinal Rating *  *
Other Uses Rating *  *  *  *
HabitEvergreen Shrub
Height0.20 m
Cultivation StatusCultivated, Wild

Cultivation Details

Agave species are found mainly in the arid and semi-arid regions of southwestern N. America, especially in Mexico. Many species can withstand at least a few degrees of frost and will succeed outdoors in warm temperate climates, 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 drought[
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
].
Agave species are monocarpic, individual plants living for a number of years without flowering then sending up an often very large flowering stem and then dying after flowering and setting seed. This species, however, normally produces many new plants from suckers and offsets during its lifespan and these new plants will continue the life-cycle. Over time, some plants can form extensive clonal colonies by this means[
11
Title
Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
Publication
 
Author
Bean. W.
Publisher
Murray
Year
1981
ISBN
-
Description
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
].
This species produces flowers after three to five years in its native habitat[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
].
The outer leaves of the rosette are hard, coarse, and difficult to work for their fibre. Younger, more tender leaves, grow
in a tightly formed cluster, or 'cogollo', at the plant's center. It is from this central bud of unopened leaves that the commercially viable fibre (ixtle de lechuguilla) is extracted.
The plant's lifespan is contingent upon the time and frequency of the removal of this central cluster. When the plant is approximately 6 years old, the centre bud contains a marketable fibre. If the plant is not harvested this bud will develop into a 2 - 3 metres high flowering stem, and shortly thereafter the plant will die. Conversely, if this bud is removed during the sixth year of growth, and is periodically cut thereafter, the plant may live 15 - 20 years before dying. The time required to regenerate new buds after cutting varies with rainfall conditions. If precipitation occurs in sufficient quantities, a new centre bud can be ready for harvesting in 6 months. During drought periods, regeneration
may require as long as 12 months)[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
].
Agave lecheguilla reproduces vegetatively, with new suckers developing from the rhizomes of the mother plant. Field studies conducted at experimental stations in northcentral Mexico indicate that the greater the exploitation of the bud, the more rapid the increase in the number of new suckers[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
]

Edible Uses

The young, more tender leaves, growing in a tightly formed cluster at the centre of the rosette, were traditionally boiled and eaten as a staple food. They are little used at present[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
].

The plant is used in making 'mezcal'[
1844
Title
Agave Agavaceae
Publication
Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons, pp 21-311
Author
Thiede J.
Website
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-56486-8_111
Publisher
Springer Nature
Year
2020
ISBN
 
Description
 
]. 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.

Medicinal

An infusion of the main stem is applied against the pain of rheumatism[
317
Title
Mansfeld's Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Plants
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:4292127278597336
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Terse details of a huge range of useful plants.
]. The report does not make it clear if it is taken internally or applied topically[
K
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
].

Steroids can be extracted from the leaves and make this and several other species of agaves a potential source of corticosteroid preparates[
317
Title
Mansfeld's Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Plants
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:4292127278597336
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Terse details of a huge range of useful plants.
].

Research has shown that an ethanolic extract of the leaves has an anti-microbial effect[
317
Title
Mansfeld's Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Plants
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:4292127278597336
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Terse details of a huge range of useful plants.
].

Other Uses

Fibres obtained from the leaves are used for making ropes, brushes, scrubbers and other objects such as bags and sacks[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
]. The fibre has been suggested as potential alternative crop plant for cellulose production[
317
Title
Mansfeld's Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Plants
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:4292127278597336
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Terse details of a huge range of useful plants.
].
Although plastic fibres have, to a large extent, replacd the use of plant fibres, the unique properties of ixtle fibre, particularly its durability, resiliency, texture, and water absorbency, mean that it is still an important article of international trade. It is particularly suitable for a range of applications including power-driven cylinder brushes, for cleaning and buffing purposes in steel mills and metal fabricating plants, in rotary floor scrubbers and polishers etc, and it is used in its pure state, or in combination with horsehair, in floor sweeps, counter dusters, calcimine brushes, roofing brushes, pastry brushes, and to some degree in scrub and bowl brushes[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
].

Rootstocks of living plants are high in sapogenin content and are used as a soap. The rootstocks are crushed and the soapy solution that forms when root fragments are placed in water and agitated effectively eradicates dirt[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
]. It is used for washing clothes, as a hair shampoo etc[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
].
The leaves are also used as a soap substitute[
317
Title
Mansfeld's Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Plants
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://mansfeld.ipk-gatersleben.de/pls/htmldb_pgrc/f?p=185:3:4292127278597336
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Terse details of a huge range of useful plants.
]. In particular, when the fibres are extracted from the leaves the residual leaf pulp (which contains some of the border spines) forms a soapy mass known locally as 'guishe'. This mass has an abrasive quality and is mixed with water to scrub pots, pans etc, and is also used for washing[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
].

The flowering stem is traditionally used in constructing the walls and roofs of homesteads[
1838
Title
Ethnobotany of Agave lecheguilla and Yucca carnerosana in Mexico's Zona Ixtlera
Publication
Economic Botany, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1980), pp. 376-390
Author
Sheldon S.
Website
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254218
Publisher
 
Year
1980
ISBN
 
Description
 
].

Propagation

Seed - surface sow in a light position, mid spring in a warm greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15 - 20°c[
133
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 1.
Publication
 
Author
Rice. G. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1987
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation.
,
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
]. 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 in the greenhouse until they are at least 15cm tall. Plant out at the beginning of the growing season, and give some protection from the cold for at least their first few winters[
K
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
].
Offsets and suckers can be potted up at any time they are available. Keep in a warm greenhouse until they are well established[
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
].
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.
Cite as: Temperate Plants Database, Ken Fern. temperate.theferns.info. 2022-08-09. <temperate.theferns.info/plant/Agave+lechuguilla>

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