Cenizo Journal Winter 2023 - Page 11

A . americana with large spent stalk and many panicles
the original stalk is spent is a rarity .
Agaves have many uses , and they have provided humans with food and beverages for at least 9,000 years . Additionally , agaves have been and are still used for fibers ( making ropes and clothes ), like henequén from a Central American agave . Beverages include pulque , tequila and mescal . Also , their carbohydrates are used for making agave honey . As food , the roasted mature heads and flowers are very sweet and nutritious . Additionally , an unfermented sweet juice , known as aquamiel , can be extracted from the center of an agave , but only when the growing inflorescence is separated . agaves are also used as ornamental plants all over the world .
The word “ agave ” comes from the Latin word agave and Greek word aqauē , name of the mother of Pentheus , and from agaous meaning noble . Other sources relate in Greek mythology that “ agave ” was the eldest daughter of Cadmus , the King and founder of the city of Thebes , Greece , and the Goddess Harmonia . The term agave was probably adopted by botanists because of the plants ’ single , massive inflorescence that is the largest among any plant .
I visited the agave plant 5.6 miles west of Alpine on September 7th , 8th and again on the 14th . The new panicle was developing with flowers normal in size . The new panicle came off the original stalk and was surrounded by green , vibrant leaves in opposition to the original plant ’ s dying leaves . These undying leaves were the same size as the original leaves as not to be confused with a pup or offset from an underground rhizome . The vibrant leaves were attached to or around the original stalk . On September 8th , with gloves ready to
avoid the leaves ’ prickles , I determined that the new panicle was connected to the mother stalk by a short ( 3 to 4 inch ) horizonal portion ; then the panicle turned vertical . It appeared healthy and developing to open its flowers just like the original mother stalk .
On my September 14th visit , I found the panicle had broken off the original stalk . It was attached six days earlier . The panicle was not wilting yet , suggesting it must have broken off recently . I collected it and took it to Dr . Powell in the Herbarium . My thinking was the panicle got heavy with upcoming flowering and the wind took it down . Dr . Powell was interested in the 48-inchlong panicle and added some flowers from it along with my photographs to the Herbarium collections .
After examining my submissions , Dr . Powell suggested I get in touch with Wendy Hodgson , an agave expert at the Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix , Arizona . Wendy Hodgson is the Herbarium Curator Emerita and Senior Research Botanist at the Desert Botanic Garden . I emailed her , attaching two pictures showing the agave and new panicle . She responded that she had seen this phenomenon before and that agaves “ want to spread their pollen and get fertilized any way they can .” Ms . Hodgson also pointed out that little flower stalks can develop from the original flower stalk , which was what I was seeing . She also conveyed that she did not know why this happens . The question of what causes the production of additional carbohydrates in a seemingly dying plant to produce a new panicle remains unanswered .
In addition to the Alpine roadside phenomenon , I observed on September 4th , another Agave americana in Marfa , Texas , approximately 24 miles west from Alpine at the intersection of Hwy 90 and South Dean Street . This agave had multiple paniculate flower stalks coming from the dying rosette and spent tall original stalk . The smaller panicles were anywhere from 10 inches to 62 inches in height and were twelve in number ! They were in different stages of development , suggesting they arose at different times . Some were small and dead , not having come to flower . The large one ( pictured ) went to full bloom and produced seeds . This plant also had vibrant , green leaves mixed among the dying leaves of the original rosette , although they were not as large as the dying leaves of the original plant . I took photographs and monitored this plant also . On a later visit , October 14th , I counted sixteen panicles in different stages of development . It was determined that the secondary leaves were still green just like the original plant had been .
Both the agaves at the roadside near Alpine and the one in Marfa are Agave americana , which is an introduced species as noted above . They were surely planted after local construction work was completed at their respective locations .
In examining a 2020 research article ( Evolutionary ecology of agave : distribution patterns , phylogeny , and coevolution ( an homage to Howard S . Gentry )), recommended to me by Ms . Hodgson , I found references of this phenomenon with my agaves . Not putting up a second panicle , but where the rosette continues to exist after producing the initial flowering stalk . It seems that in a study in the Valley of Metztitlán in the state of Hidalgo , Mexico , with agave striata , the rosette did not die after producing an inflorescence . In these agaves , “ After the first reproductive event , the axillary buds flower , and the rest of the buds ( and the plant ) survive .” Interestingly , the A . striata has the highest diversity of floral visitors that can include bats , moths , perching birds , bees and hummingbirds .
I found our local agave anomalies extremely interesting as I had never experienced it in my plant studies . The most thought-provoking questions remain , of course : how and why . The “ why ” is best addressed with Ms . Hodgson ’ s quote that they just “ want to spread their pollen and get fertilized any way they can ”— reproduction being the basis of regeneration of the species . The “ how ” is still a curious and fascinating question . Acknowledgments :
I would like to thank Dr . A . Michael Powell of Sul Ross State University and Wendy Hodgson of the Desert Botanic Garden in Arizona for their contributions , interest and support for me in writing this article . �

Cenizo Winter 202311