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Agave deserti - Engelm.

Common Name Desert Agave
Family Asparagaceae
USDA hardiness 9-11
Known Hazards 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[1846 ].
Habitats Sandy to gravelly or rocky places, in desert scrub and pinyon-juniper woodlands, at elevations from 500 - 1,500 metres[1844 ].
Range Southwest N. America - southern California, northwest Mexico (northern Baja California)
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Agave deserti Desert Agave

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Agave deserti Desert Agave
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Agave deserti is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a rosette of leaves that can be 30 - 70cm tall and 40 - 80cm in diameter. The leaves on mature plants can each be 25 - 40cm long and 6 - 8cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be around 2.5 - 6 metres tall is produced, after which the rosette will die. However, the plant is often freely suckering and can produce many young plants around its base that will develop as new plants[1842 , 1844 , 1846 ].. The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of fibre. It is considered to be one of the more edible of the Agaves, and was a principal plant resource for the native peoples[1846 ]. It is grown as an ornamental in gardens - the subspecies simplex is considered o be especially well-suited for hot and dry gardens in the southwestern USA[1844 ]. Agave deserti is widespread and even though there are threats in parts of its range, the overall population is stable. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2019)[338 ]. The Agave genus, belonging to the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae), includes various species such as Goldenflower Agave, Desert Agave, Palmer’s Agave, Parry’s Agave, and Utah Agave. These plants are historically significant as food sources for Native Americans, who consumed their caudices (crowns, heads, or hearts), flower stalks, flower buds, flowers, and seeds. While these parts are edible, extensive preparation is needed to reduce saponins and irritating soap-like compounds in all of the agave—traditional preparation involves baking the parts in fire pits, enhancing their flavour and texture. The crowns and flower stalks are the most valuable, often baked and consumed immediately or stored for later use. Agave syrup can also be made from the baked crowns. Agave flowers and seeds are generally not suitable for consumption due to their acrid taste and the presence of potentially harmful compounds. Dislodging agave plants and removing their leaves is labour-intensive, requiring tools like a sharp axe. Agave blooms in late spring to early summer, and its flowers, while not ideal for human consumption, play an essential role in the ecosystem, supporting wildlife. Some agave species are protected, and their collection may be restricted to ensure conservation [2-3].

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Agave deserti is an evergreen Perennial growing to 0.4 m (1ft 4in) by 0.4 m (1ft 4in) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Bees, Moths.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Agave consociata Trel.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Young flowering stem - cooked[1846 ] Flowers - cooked[1846 ]. The heart of the plant is slow-baked and eaten[1846 ]. The heart of the rosette is rich in carbohydrates and slow-baking will convert much of thes carbohydrates into sugars, so the heart becomes very sweet. Traditionally, it was used in various ways including eaten as a vegetable or sweetmeat, dried for later use, made into a syrup or fermented to make an alcoholic drink[1842 ]. The plant is known to have been eaten by the Arizona Indians, and may still be eaten by some tribes in northwestern Sonora[1842 ]. Parts Used: Caudices (crowns, heads, or hearts), flower stalks, flower buds, flowers, and seeds. Preparation: Extensive preparation is often required. Cooking reduces saponins (irritating soap-like compounds). Harvesting: Crowns can be gathered anytime, traditionally, when flower stalks emerge. Flower stalks are best gathered when they first appear (April to June), while still soft. Traditional Method: Native Americans baked agave flower stalks and crowns in fire pits overnight. Baked parts can be consumed immediately or stored for future use. Agave syrup is made by boiling baked crowns with water [2-3].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

The plant contains little or no sapogenins and I find no report of medicinal uses[1842 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

A fibre is obtained from the leaves. Used for cordage etc[338 ]. The leaves are very fibrous, producing a fibre that is very harsh but strong and durable. It is used for making ropes, mats, nets, etc., and even for sewing thread[454 ].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agave deserti is native to a very arid region of southwest N. America, where the mean annual rainfall can be just 90 - 250mm[1846 ]. 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. This is an extremely drought-tolerant species, it can survive several years with little or no rainfall[1846 ]. 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. Individual plants take about 7 - 15 years in their native habitat, considerably longer in colder climates, before flowering[11 ]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233 ]. Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer. Wildlife: Flowers are better left for wildlife as they contain acrid compounds, making them unpalatable for human consumption. Environmental Impact: Some species are protected, so gathering may be restricted in certain areas [2-3]. Challenges: Dislodging an agave is difficult and requires tools like a sharp axe. Preparation: Removing leaves to access crowns is challenging due to their toughness and spines  [2-3].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

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[133 , 200 ]. 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[K ]. Offsets and suckers can be potted up at any time they are available. Keep in a warm greenhouse until they are well established[200 ]. 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.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Desert Agave, Maguey de Desierto

Native to: California, Mexico Northwest.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Least Concern

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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