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[
Common Name: Assoot
Agave pelona is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a compact rosette of leaves that can be 40 - 50cm tall and 50 - 80cm in diameter. The leaves on mature plants can each be 35 - 50cm long and 30 - 45mm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be around 2 - 3 metres tall is produced, after which the rosette will die[
The plant is sometimes used in making the distilled liquor 'mezcal', and was formerly used locally as a source of food and fibre. It is a very attractive species that is appreciated as an ornamental by collectors and can be found for sale in nurseries[
Agave pelona has a small range and extent of occurrence, and there is an ongoing decline due to over harvesting for the trade in ornamental plants. It is projected that current rates of decline will continue, resulting in 100% decline in the population - that is the complete removal of wild individuals over the next 60 years. The plant is classified as 'Critically 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[
Southwest N America - northwest Mexico (Sonora)
Limestone cliffs and rock formations in tropical dry shrubland habitats; at elevations from 600 - 750 metres[
|Conservation Status||Critically Endangered
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
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[
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[
This plant is a sweet kind (low in sapogenins) and is suitable for making the distilled alcoholic drink known as 'mezcal', though the heart of the plant is considered to be too small for commercial use due to the labour involved in cutting and trimming[
Analyses of the leaves for steroids showed 0.06% sapogenin from Sierra del Viejo and 0.3% smilagenin from Sierrita de Lopez[
The heart, and leaf bases, plus also, presumably, the flowers and young flowering stems of this species were formerly eaten[
As it ages, the centre of the rosette (sometimes called either the heart or the head) is used by the plant as a store for moisture and becomes rich in carbohydrates. 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.
A strong fibre is obtained from the leaves[
]. This was probably used locally by native peoples for making cordage etc[
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[
]. 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[
Offsets and suckers can be potted up at any time they are available. Keep in a warm greenhouse until they are well established[
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.