The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Agave chrysantha
Golden-flowered agave

FAMILY:  Asparagaceae — Asparagus family

ETYMOLOGY:  The name of the genus Agave, first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, is taken from the Greek word agauos, which means 'noble' or 'admirable', a reference to the stately appearance of the plant. The name Agave occurs frequently in Greek mythology--as one of the Amazons (female warriors), one of the Nereids (sea nymphs), and one of the Danaids (the fifty daughters of Danaus).

The species name chrysantha derives from two Greek words, chrys, or 'golden', and anthos, meaning 'flower'.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE:  Endemic to central and southern Arizona

HABITAT:  Found in foothills, mountain slopes and canyons, desert grasslands, and oak woodlands, 3,000-6,000'

BLOOMING SEASON:  Late spring into summer

DESCRIPTION:  Agave chrysantha grows in a rosette (a spiral of layered leaves) that grows to 2' tall and 3-4' wide. Grayish blue to yellowish green leaves grow to 30" long and 3-4" wide. Individual leaves bear the imprint of The rigid, thick leaves are trough-shaped with small, sharp teeth along the leaf margins. At the tip of each leaf is a very sharp reddish brown spine, 1-3" long.

At the center of the agave's spiral is the leaf bud, a tightly bound group of juvenile leaves. As these leaves mature, they leaves unfurl from the center, revealing the imprint of the leaves that were beneath them in the bud. This bud imprint remains on the leaf throughout its life.

The intense golden yellow flowers grow in densely packed umbels on a branched stalk, or inflorescence, that can reach to 20' in height with 8 to 18 branches.

NOTES:  As with most plants in this genus, Agave chrysantha is monocarpic—it flowers once in its lifetime and then dies.

Plant-Insect Associations:  Golden-flowered agave is a keystone species, a plant that many other species are dependent on in a particular ecosystem. When flowering, it produces a significant amount of nectar during the driest months of the year that attracts bats, birds, and insects.

Desert Adaptations:  Several adaptations by the agave's leaves help it to survive in areas with little rainfall. The leaves themselves are succulent and store water, and a waxy cuticle covering the leaves helps to prevent water loss. The spiral form of the leaves and the concave shape of individual leaves help to funnel water to the plant's roots. Agaves have a fine net of shallow, fibrous roots that spread out in all directions and can quickly take advantage of even small amounts of rain.