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This species is locally very abundant and has one of the most extensive distribution of any member of the Agave genus.
Origin and Habitat: The lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) is distributed from south New Mexico to central Mexico, throughout the Chihuahuan Desert in Trans-Pecos Texas, southern New Mexico, and northern Mexico south to Hidalgo. It is locally very abundant and has one of the most extensive distribution of any member of the Agave genus, approximately 1600 km. Given it extraordinary abundance (dense stands of lechugulla may number up to 30,000 rosettes per hectare), it is believed that there are more lechuguilla rosettes in the wild than of all the other native agaves (more than 200 species ).
Altitude range: 500-1400 metres above sea level.
Habitat and Ecology: This species is restricted to desert habitats preferring gravelly to rocky calcareous places in desert scrub. The annual rainfall of the lechugulla area generally ranges between 300 and 500 mm, but there are local ecceptions. In the same area it is possible to find several endemic cactus species such as Mammilaria compressa, Ferocactus latispinus, Echinocactus ingens, Astrophytum senile and Leuchtenbergia principis. The plant flowers once in its life, then it dies. Blooming on average only after 20 years of growth (reports vary from 3 years to 35). The flowers are a source of nutrients for insects, bats, and some birds. This species is the dominant agave on the Chihuahuan Desert, where it is an indicator species for calcareous soils. Thick stands of lechuguilla , armed with their stiff, needle-sharp spines, can impede both human and animal movement It hybridizes with Agave havardiana, Agave neomexicana, Agave gracilipes, and Agave × glomeruliflora. In localities where A. lechugulla grows with Agave lophantha there are intermediate forms, which are assignable as hybrids. There are no major threats to this species at present, but it might be threatened by deer and javelinas (collared peccaries) who eat it, however, it is poisonous to cattle.
- Agave lechuguilla Torr.
Agave lechuguilla Torr.
Rep. U.S. Mex. Bound., Bot. [Emory] lechuguilla
- Agave lechuguilla Torr.
- Agave heteracantha Jacobi
- Agave multilineata Baker
- Agave univittata var. foliis striatis hort. ex Besaucèle
- Agave univittata var. recurvispinis hort. ex Besaucèle
- Agave univittata var. tamaulipasana (A.Berger)
- Agave lophantha var. tamaulipasana A.Berger
- Agave univittata var. viridis hort. ex Besaucèle
- Agave univittata var. zonata hort. ex Besaucèle
ENGLISH: Lecheguilla Agave, Tampico fiber, Shin-daggers, Century plant, Little lettuce
ESTONIAN (Eesti): Tampiko agaav
GERMAN (Deutsch): Ixtlefaser
LITHUANIAN (Lietuvių): Nuodingoji agava
SPANISH (Español): Agave lechuguilla, Lecheguilla, Lechuguilla, Maguey lechuguilla, Ixtle de lechuguilla, Mescal lechuguilla, Tula ixtle
Description: Agave lechuguilla (common name in Chihuahua: lechuguilla, meaning "little lettuce") is a small sized trunk-less agave, composed of basal, widely suckering rosettes, and hardly looks like an agave. The linear leaves are yellow-green, long, tough and rigid, with very sharp, hard marginal teeth that slant down, and terminating in a stout sharp spine, which can easily penetrate clothing and even leather. The plants have yellow or reddish flowers and easily seeding.
Rosettes: Openly cespitose, few-leaved, 30–40(-50) cm tall (40-)50–60 cm across.
Leaves: Mostly ascending to erect, (25–) 30–50 cm long, 2–4(–5.2) cm wide. Blade light green to yellowish green, sometimes checkmarked but without bud-prints, linear-lanceolate, stiff, mostly ascending to erect, sometime falcately spreading, upper surface concave toward apex, below convex toward base; margins light brown to grey, straight, continuous, easily detached, nonfiliferous, conspicuously armed, teeth single 2–6 mm long, mostly (1–)2–4 cm apart, rarely absent; apical spine greyish, conical to subulate, 1.5–4.5 cm long.
Inflorescences (spike): Scape (2–)2.5–3.5 m tall, densely flowered on upper half, the shaft generally glaucous, bracts caducous, linear, 1–3 cm long. peduncle 2–5 mm long (rarely 20–150 mm).
Flowers: 2–3 per cluster, erect to slightly recurved, (2.4–)3–4.5 cm long; perianth yellow, frequently tinged with red or purple, tube campanulate, 1.5–4 long, 6–12 mm in diameter, limb lobes ascending, subequal, 11–20 mm long. Stamens long-exserted; filaments inserted on rim of perianth tube, spreading, yellow to reddish, 2.5–4.2 cm; anthers pale yellow, (11–)15–20 mm; ovary (0.8–)1.5–2.2 cm, neck constricted (2–)4–8.5 mm.
Blooming season: Flowering mid spring--late summer.
Fruits (capsules): Sessile or short-pedicellate, oblong, 1.8–2.5(–3) cm long, apex beaked.
Seeds: 4.5–6 mm across.
Chromosome number: 2n = 110–120.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Thacker, H. 2013. Agave lechuguilla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 21 June 2015.
2) Wikipedia contributors. "Agave lechuguilla." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Jun. 2015.
3) PLANTS Profile for Agave lechuguilla “Flora of North America” on [http://www. efloras.org] Web. 4 Mar. 2015.
4) Erhardt, W. et al. “Der große Zander: Enzyklopädie der Pflanzennamen.” 2008.
5) Gentry, H. S. “The agave family in Sonora.” U.S.D.A. Agric. Handb. 399:9,22. [mentions; "lecheguilla"]. 1972.
6) Gentry, H. S. “Agaves of continental North America.” 154–157. 1982.
7) Kingsbury, J. M.. “Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. [poisonous].” 1964
8) Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium. “Hortus third. ["lecheguilla"].” 1976.
9) Mabberley, D. J. “The plant-book: a portable dictionary of the vascular plants”, ed. 2. 1997.
10) Rehm, S. “Multilingual dictionary of agronomic plants”. ["lecheguilla"].1994.
11) Steve West “Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildflowers” Falcon, 2000
12) Matt Warnock Turner “Remarkable Plants of Texas: Uncommon Accounts of Our Common Natives” University of Texas Press, 01 January 2010
13) Corn, J. L. and R. J. Warren. (1985). “Seasonal food habits of the collared peccary in South Texas.” Journal of Mammalogy. 66:1 155-59.
14) Matt Warnock Turner “Remarkable Plants of Texas: Uncommon Accounts of Our Common Natives” University of Texas Press, 01 January 2010
15) D. Jesse Wagstaff “International Poisonous Plants Checklist: An Evidence-Based Reference” CRC Press, 07 July 2008
16) Delena Tull “Edible and Useful Plants of the Southwest: Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona” University of Texas Press, 15 September 2013
Cultivation and Propagation: Agave lechuguilla is seldom cultivated as an ornamental, but easy to grow and suited for any well drained soil in half or full sun. Suited for light shade to full sun, but better with some shade in summer. It needs a very well-drained soil and grows fairly fast in summer if provided with copious water, but allow to dry thoroughly before watering again (the more water and fertilizer this plant gets, the faster it will grow). During the winter months, one should only water enough to keep the leaves from shriveling.
It has been reported to be frost tolerant down to -12° C, but it is best to avoid freezing temperatures if not perfectly dry.
It does great in containers or in the ground. Plants cultivated outdoors are more drought tolerant and can take some heat and full sun.
Use and Trade: Agave lechuguilla is the principal source of “istle” or “ixtle,” a hard fiber used for rope and known by the trade name “Tampico fibre.” This species is also used in the fabrication of brushes and scrubbers. Native Americans have used fibers from the leaves to make ropes and mats. Nowadays, Tampico fiber is also being used in the industrial brush business. It is resistant to most chemicals, alkaline and acidic solutions, heat, etc. The water stored in the flowering stalks of this plant, rich in salts and minerals, is sold in Mexico as a sport drink.
Warning: Has sharp spines that deter some gardeners. The plant is also poisonous to cattle, goats, and sheep.
Propagation: It is usually propagated clonally from offsets, which often are found growing around the base of the plant. Remove the basal suckers in spring or summer and let the cuttings dry for a few days before inserting into compost.
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