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    National Memorial Arizona

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Agaves - Century plants

Palmer's agave with stalk showing seed pods.

Palmer's agave

Photo by David Bly

Agaves, also known as “century plants,” are easily recognized with stout spear-like leaves that grow from the center of a rosette. This rosette of leaves concentrates rainwater near the plant’s base, thus creating a mechanism for self-irrigation. Despite their name, most agaves bloom within 15-30 years. The plant puts all its energy into the flowering stalk, then dies the following season.

The fibrous leaves were used to make cloth, rope, needles (from the pointed tips) and thread. Baked in underground pits, the hearts (harvested just before flowering) were relished by Native peoples for their sugary sweetness and were also pounded into cakes that were dried for storage. Mexican tequila, has been made for centuries in central Mexico from fermented and distilled agave juice. The stalks are eaten by deer, squirrels, and many other animals, and the flower nectar is consumed by hummingbirds and bats in exchange for pollination.

During the lesser long-nosed bats’ presence in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico from July to September, it depends almost exclusively on Palmer agave as a food source. Although it was once thought that Palmer’s agave needed the lesser long-nosed bat survive, more recent studies show that other animals and insects (bees, hummingbirds, orioles, hawkmoths, butterflies, and wasps) adequately pollinate these plants. The bats need the agaves more than the agaves need the bats because there is not mush else for them to forage on during late summer.

Agave ready for planting.

A volunteer holds an agave ready to plant.

NPS Photo- K. Hooper

Agave Planting Day- 2012
Now is your chance to help the Lesser long-nosed bat. On Saturday, August 18th, 2012 from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm, volunteers like you will plant over 1000 agaves to help protect the habitat of this endangered bat.


Did You Know?

barking frog

Coronado National Memorial is home to the rare barking frog. Its presence was first confirmed here in 1993. The barking frog hibernates for almost the entire year, except for a few weeks in summer after the first heavy rains. Then, the males can be heard calling from limestone crevices for mates.