Saturday, July 14, 2012

Agave olé ...

The semi-arid climate of central Texas can present a host of problems for summer gardening. With the seasonal high temperatures and minimal rainfall, it's a challenge to find plants that will bloom during our oppressive heat and under drought conditions. So, you can imagine how thrilled we are to see native species like the Agave not only surviving, but thriving with their glorious show of blossoms in July.

The Agave plant, also known as Maguey or the Century Plant (which is really a misnomer since they live 10-30 years, not a century) is originally from Mexico. These beauties have naturalized in Texas and were first identified as Agave Americana in the 1753 edition of Species Plantarum.

Mature plants, like the ones in my neighborhood (shown above) can send spikes over 20 feet tall, each bursting with hundreds of short, tubular yellow flowers.

Agave are monocapic, meaning that after development of fruit on the spikes, the original plant dies. But, suckers are produced from the base of the stem (shown above in my yard), which become new plants.

Some of the agave in my yard (this one is a little over 5 feet tall) have smooth margins or edges while others have a brutal, serrated edge. But, don't let any of them fool you.  These plants are seriously dangerous.

All of the agave plants have a heavy spike at the tip that can pierce to the bone.

For centuries, the agave has been cultivated for its juice which is used to make a native drink called Pulque and for the distilled spirits, Tequila and Mezcal. It's nectar is also a natural sweetener called agave syrup.

Dating back thousands of years, early man used the agave fiber to make woven fabric, rope and paper. There are over 300 species in the plant family, so I have not tried to commit all to memory.

Other than the top two photos which I took in our neighborhood, all of the other photos shown here were taken of agave plants on our property.

The agave is so loved locally that we've used the dead stalks during our Fiesta celebrations for decor.


For A Night In Old San Antonio® (the premier event that takes place over four nights during the annual Fiesta San Antonio®), I and several cohorts created mini, handmade, yellow paper flowers and individually attached each one with wire to branches of old agave stalks (seen above and below).

The agave offers an authentic southwestern flavor to gardens and parties. Just remember, if you aren't growing your own, you must do two things. Wait for the plant to die before cutting the stalk and ask permission from the landowner before taking any part of the plant or its offspring!

All photos above by Alamodeus.

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