Agave

Palmer's agave with stalk showing seed pods.
Palmer's agave

Photo by David Bly

Agave, 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 must else for them to forage on during late summer.

 
Close up hands holding a young agave plant
A volunteer holds an agave ready to plant.

NPS Photo/K. Hooper

Agave Planting and Seed Collection Days

Stay tuned for the latest on how to help the park rehabilitate the agave population in the park's grassland habitat. Volunteer opportunities will be available to help park scientists collect agave seed and plant young agave pups. Contact the park for more information about volunteering: (520) 366-5515, or contact us via email.

Agave Restoration Video

Check out this video that highlights our Resource Management Team's agave restoration project. Volunteer and students have helped plant thousands of new agaves in the park's grasslands to rehabilitate the landscape. The project has been ongoing for over two years, and we hope it will continue into the future.

 
 
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Duration:
51 seconds

To better understand the Palmer's agave (Agave palmeri) in the park's grassland region we trained a camera on a blooming plant. This time-lapse video shows the rapid growth and bloom of the stalk. Agaves are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering.

Last updated: April 7, 2016

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Mailing Address:

4101 E Montezuma Canyon Rd
Hereford, AZ 85615

Phone:

(520) 366-5515

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