Agave parryi Engelm. var. parryi
by Reed Beauduy, Native Plants of Arizona , 2004
Common names: Parry's century plant, Parry's agave.
Synonymy: Agave parryi var. couesii, Agave huachucensis, Agave parryi var. huachucensis, Agave scabra Salm-Dyck
Etymology: The genus Agave is from the Greek word agavos for admirable, noble, splendid. This refers to the noble appearance of the century plant. The genus parryi honors the botanist Charles C. Parry.
Growth form: Succulent, rosette perennial(1).
Roots: Fibrous (monocot) (3)
Stem: Thick, abbreviated shoot; may appear as sessile rosette; stem is water storing and contains a
large terminal portion of the central meristem below the large bud of new leaves; when trimmed from the roots and leaves, the stem becomes the “heart” used for food and fermented drinks(1).
Leaves: Grayish-green, linear-ovate, short acuminate, rigid, thick, concave on upper surface; hooked teeth on margins, 3-7 mm long; sharp, terminal spine 15-30 mm long; leaf to 55 cm long, in large, compact basal rosette, freely suckering. Spirally imbricated and concave, leaves collect and direct rain water inward around the base of the stem. Leaves of Agave are principle source of stored nutrients eventually moving into inflorescence (1,2).
Inflorescence/flowers: Flower stalk is 4-6 meter tall panicle with a stout, straight stalk and 20-36 stout lateral peduncles on upper half of stalk; flowers in terminal clusters, buds reddish orange, turning yellow when flowers open; tepals generally about twice as long as the broad thick tubes. Pollinated by bats, hummingbirds, and insects in search of nectar (1,2).
Fruit: Capsules on stout pedicels, 3.5-5 x 1.5-2 cm, short-stipitate, beaked, strong-walled; seeds 7-8 x 5-6 mm, half moon in outline, with low, thick rim and shallow hilar notch(1).
Similar species: Twelve species of Agave grow in Arizona (2).
Life history: Plants generally clonal. Stems flower only once around 20-25 years of age, and then die. New plants already formed on root system take over(2).
Photosynthetic pathway: CAM
Phenology: Flowers from June to August.
Distribution: From central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico southward through the highlands of Mexico to Durango. Agave parryi habitat include the rocky slopes of the grama grasslands, the oak woodland, the pine and oak forests, and Arizona chaparral at elevations generally ranging from 1500-2500 meters; in Arizona, this includes the lower sonoran zone, upper sonoran zone, and transition zone(1).
Agave parryi was a useful plant to native people in its wild habitat. The heart of the plant can be eaten when baked. The young flower stalk, seeds, and tender young leaves are all edible when prepared, generally by roasting. A very strong fiber can be obtained from the leaves, thorns can be used as needles and pins, and soap can be extracted from the leaves. Today, Agave parryi is used ornamentally in landscaping. Cattle will eat Agave leaves when pressed by hunger(1,2,4). The sap from the heart of the plant can be tapped beneath the flowering stalk and fermented to make a potent alcoholic drink. Tequila is made from a Mexican relative of Parry's agave, the blue agave. Modern production of tequila involves baking the heart of the plant to extract golden-brown sugars. The baked heart is fermented and the liquid distilled to produce tequila.
1. Gentry, Howard Scott. Agaves of Continental N. America . University of Arizona Press, 1982.
2. Epple, Anne Orth. Plants of Arizona . Falcon Press Publishing Co., 1995.