(Hmm, “Everyone” seems kind of optimistic. Maybe I should just say, “Hello Mom & Dad”)
I am back after a long, unintended gap in my blogging about the Mojave Desert. But I have good news. I now have access to all of the pictures I’ve taken for work, which means that I get to show off to you some of the amazing plants that I’ve seen!
To start off, we’ll take a look at a couple of Agaves. This is a rather conspicuous genus that is wildly different from anything I’m familiar with back in my Midwest home. You may recognize a common name used for some Agaves – Century Plants. Most species of Agave are found in semiarid climates farther south in Mexico and the Sonoran Desert, but two species show up in my field area in the Mojave: Agave deserti (Desert Agave) and Agave utahensis (Utah Agave).
These plants have a very distinctive form that is striking on the rocky slopes where they grow. They have leaves that grow in a basal rosette – forming a round cluster on the ground. The leaves are succulent, which means that they are thick and fleshy, storing water for the plant in this extremely dry environment where they live. Each individual leaf is long and slender, which sharp teeth on the edges and a dagger-like spine at the tip. The species here in the Mojave have waxy, bluish-green leaves that grow in clusters about 0.5-meter wide.
When these Agaves bloom, they produce a tall stalk with a branching inflorescence at the top. The largest flower stalks that I’ve seen have been 3-5 meters in height. That makes for a very tall plant amongst the other, typically shorter, vegetation that grows here in the desert. A hillside full of flowering Agave is an impressive sight. The flowers themselves are beautiful. Both species that grow here produce large, vibrant clusters of yellow flowers.
The label “Century Plant” is misleading, but not entirely inaccurate for these plants. It is true that they will grow as a rosette for many years without flowering. It takes an Agave deserti at least 20-30 years, but not a whole century, before it finally produces flowers. Then, after the plant finally does bloom and produce seed, the rosette withers and dies. However, some Agaves will generate vegetative re-growth as well, forming clones of new rosettes. Over time, these clones can form ring-shaped colonies that far exceed the century mark in age. Some Agave deserti colonies may be more than 1,000 years old! Century Plants indeed.
Until next time,
Needles Field Office, BLM