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: Mescalitos
Agave polianthiflora is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a rosette of leaves that can be 10 - 20cm tall and 20 - 30cm in diameter. The leaves of mature plants can each be10 - 20 cm long and 10 - 13mm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be around 120 - 200cm 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 harvested from the wild for local use as food. It is appreciated as an ornamental due to its small size and red flowers[
Agave polianthiflora has a wide range and extent of occurrence. Even though it is not common, and there are threats in part of its range, it occurs in several protected areas and grows in areas of difficult access, which confers the species some protection. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2020)[
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[
Southwestern N. America - northern Mexico (Chihuahua, Sonora)
Found as small clones on rocky outcrops with volcanic to calcareous rock on vegetation of grasslands, pine and oak forests; at elevations from 1,300 - 2,200 metres[
|Conservation Status||Least Concern
|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[
In moist or more fertile situations and if watered frequently in cultivation, the leaves become much larger than in its natural habitat[
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[
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[
A good source of sweet food when pit baked[
]. This probably refers to the heart of the plant and/or the leaf bases, but could refer to the young flowering stem[
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.
In addition, the young flowering stem can also be cooked and eaten - it has a sweet flavour, though it can be rather fibrous.
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.
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.