In this second plant post I’m going to explain more about Lechuguilla, the plant that doubles as soap(soap post here)!
Latin Name: Agave Lechuguilla
Common Name: Lechuguilla, Shin Daggers
Climate: arid, hot
Size: 1-2 ft tall, flower stalk can grow up to 15 ft tall
Flowers: occurs at the age of 12-15 years at the end of the plant’s life, single stalk of spike-like panicle, purple or yellowish flowers
Range: Chihuahuan Desert
Agave Lechuguilla is a part of the Agavaceae family, a family with about 3,000 species. Some species of agave are used to make agave spirits like tequila. Lechuguilla is often referred to as “Shin Daggers” as the tips of the leaves are incredibly sharp and can penetrate clothing including denim and leather. The leaves of the plant are succulent rosettes that are yellow-green and can grow 1-2 ft tall. Lechuguilla are long-lived and spend their lives saving up nutrients to eventually flower. Once mature enough, the plant will send up a single stalk to flower and seed.
The plant is shallowly rooted, and will often clone itself producing small colonies. Both the roots and the leaves are a source of salt, mucilage, and saponin which all help to maintain water and nutrient retention. If you missed our post on using Lechuguilla to make soap, I’ve linked to it at the top of this post! Lechuguilla are toxic to cattle and sheep but serve as a food source to a native peccary, the Javelina.
Lechuguilla are an indicator species of the Chihuahuan Desert and are easily found throughout it. They have many physiological adaptations that help them survive in such an arid climate. Their leaves are resistant to transpiration and during a rainfall, their roots grow rapidly as to attain more water. During the flowering phase, stalks can grow as much as 8 inches in a single day! Flowers open in late afternoon and last around 96 hours. Stalks grow tall to allow for ample pollination and winds can carry seeds hundreds of feet away.
Lechuguilla can be made into a spirit but we have yet to try one. I’ll have to follow up with a post once we do! Though very sharp, we’re excited to have so much agave on our land and in the area. Their flower stalks are incredibly impressive and it’s humbling to see something work so hard to reproduce and carry on life just before it starts to wither away.
1. Surhone LM, Tennoe MT, Henssonow SF, editors. Agave Lechuguilla. Betascript Publishing; 2010.
2. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – the university of Texas at Austin. Wildflower.org. [accessed 2021 May 22]. https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=AGLE