Desert Agave

Common Names:
Desert Agave, Mezcal, Desert Century Plant
Scientific name:
Agave deserti
Subspecies | Variants:
Agave deserti var. deserti, Agave deserti var. simplex
Elevation range:
<5,000 ft.
Flowering Months:
May, June, July
Height | Length:
8-15 ft.
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
Stem succulent
Notes:
Food for insects & larvae, Attracts butterflies, Nesting place for birds
Ancestral Usage:
food, medicinal, clothing/shoes, textile dye, basketry/tools
State Occurrences:
Parks & Preserves:
Desert region:
Sonoran
Comments: 

Desert Agave is an important source of food and moisture for desert wildlife, as it was for Native Americans, who also used it to make textiles, rope, weapons, glue and medicines and more. Most reproduction occurs via rhizomes, but some sexual reproduction does occur. After approximately 10-12 years of existing as a basal rosette of fleshy, pointed leaves, Desert Agave shoots up a flower stalk as high as 50 ft and blooms for the first time. The flowers atop the stalk produce two chemicals only necessary to attract the Lesser Long Nosed Bat, which pollinates it in a symbiotic relationship with the plant. After blooming, the entire plant dies. Historical and modern poaching of the plant for bootleg tequila has reduced this plant's distribution. It occurs primarily in patchy locations in upper elevations of the Sonoran desert in California, extreme southern Arizona and Mexico.

Desert Agave 7

Desert Agave in the desert

Agave deserti is a succulent plant with a basal rosette of large, gray-green lanceolate leaves with sharp points at the end. At maturity it produces a stalk up to 20 ft. tall. The inflorescence sits at the top and is composed of a panicle of many yellow funnel-shaped flowers. The plant reaches maturity at 20-40 years of age. After blooming, the plant dies but not before producing numerous "pups" at its base. Bow Willow, Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2010    

Desert Agave 8

Desert Agave in the desert

Agave deserti thriving in its natural landscape topped by pretty clouds. Blair Valley, Anza Borrego Desert State Park | February 2005   

Desert Agave 2

Desert Agave in the desert

Agave deserti was vitally important for Native American tribes. All parts of the plant were roasted in a pit and eaten. They used fibers to make rope, shoes, cloth, fishing nets, baskets, and strings for hunting bows. The extremely sharp tips were used for sewing and as weapons. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | February 2014    

Desert Agave 9

Desert Agave in the desert

These lavender-colored Common Phacelia are a beautiful contrast to the gray-blue Agave deserti.  Coyote Creek, Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2010   

Desert Agave 3

Desert Agave in the desert

Agave deserti that has just reached maturity. The stalk grows as much as 1 ft. per day. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2015    

Desert Agave 1

Desert Agave in the desert

Pulp and liquids are extracted from Agave deserti and is most widely known as being the source of mescal and tequila. It is also used to make a sweetener. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | December 2013    

Desert Agave 5

Desert Agave in the desert

Agave deserti on a rocky hillside with Ocotillo, Barrel cacti and Gander's Cholla. This plant has a rather restricted range in the northern Sonoran Desert, but is protected by this park. Blair Valley, Anza Borrego Desert State Park | February 2005    

Desert Agave 6

Desert Agave in the desert

Closer view of the yellow Agave deserti flowers at the top of its tall stalk. These flowers are an important food source for hummingbirds and insects, which also serve as pollinators. Some species of Agave are pollinated by nectar-seeking bats. Bow Willow, Anza Borrego Desert State Park | March 2010