The desert agave (Agave deserti) holds vast amounts of water within its succulent spike-like leaves. The plant, which thrives only in parts of California and Arizona, grows as a basal clump that can measure up to 20 feet in width and 2 feet high. The blue-green spines of the plants foliage have sharp teeth along the edges.The agave, which can live eight to 20 years, produces towering flower spikes and seeds, then dies.
The desert agave grows in large colonies on dry, rocky slopes in the Upper Sonoran and Mojave deserts. The colonies are produced by the plants root system. The basal roots spread out and produce new desert agaves.
Many desert agaves are used in desert home gardens.The desert agave needs alkaline, gravelly soil and very little water. It will not tolerate standing water around its roots. Plants should be watered only once a month.
When the plant is between 8 and 20 years old, it will send up towering flower stalks that can reach 20 feet in height. The yellow flowers are highly attractive to bees. Because the blossoms are both male and female, the agave can self-pollinate. The flowers appear in late spring to early summer and last up to two weeks before they begin to dry out and produce seed pods. Once the agave has set fruit, the plant will die.
Native Americans roasted the agave and also dried it to make cakes. They also used the agave as a fiber source. Many birds and mammals rely on the desert agave for food, shelter and water.
The desert agave in its natural habit is considered to be endangered because the plants are illegally harvested to make the alcoholic drink mescal, a harsher version of tequila. Many wild agave plants are uprooted each year to make bootleg liquors, according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.