Thursday, September 22, 2011

bats for agave

There is a coming out party in my back yard.

Not that type.  The debutante type.

There are two rather benign agave plants against the east wall.  I say benign because they are not the serrated leaf, limb-amputating variety. 

Instead, their leaves are defended only by a venom-charged needle leaf tip.  A tip that can hurt like a wasp sting for the unwary ant hunter.

But that is it.  Otherwise, it is merely a beautiful broad-leafed specimen plant.  Nice, but not showy.

Until this past month.  The homely plant has turned into Cinderella.  Throwing up a flower spike with row after row of gaudy yellow flowers.

But, unlike Cinderella, there is no happily ever after with Prince Charming.  Once the flowers have attracted the necessary number of pollinators and the seeds are set, the spike will wither and the plant will die.

Those flowers are also the basis for a bit of botanist wars.  Scientists seem to be attracted to controversy like night moths to the agave flower.

Even though the leaves look as if the agave could be a cactus, it isn’t.  Agave (like maize, tomatoes, and chilies) are a native of Mexico.  Because of the shape of the flowers, some botanists put it in the lily family. 

That group is now in the minority -- even though I can certainly see how they arrived at their conclusion.  Take a look at the flower buds.  They look like miniature day lilies.


If you go on a tequila tour, you will undoubtedly hear the guide tell a tale about the blue agave (the source of tequila) being a lily.  He will then winkingly warn the men not to go home and dig up their wives’ gardens.  (A joke that falls into the category of guides who think they are far more witty than their material.)

In modern classification, it now sits in the same table as asparagus and hyacinths.

How it is classified is not as interesting to me as the activity that takes place around the flowers.  Bees and flies during the day.  A few.

But the activity increases at night.  Two nights ago, while on ant patrol, I used my flashlight to look at the spike.  There were a couple of moths on the flowers.

I then saw a form swoosh through the beam.  A bird?  At this time of night? 

I kept the beam in place, and it returned -- with a companion,  As soon as my eyes adjusted, I identified two bats.  At first, I thought they were after the moths.  But, as I watched, I could see they were feeding on the nectar of the flowers.

Unfortunately, they were far too shy -- and fast -- to put up with any camera action.  So, I did not bother.  After all, they have a job to do – and the agave flowers do not stay around for long.

Before too long, the whole plant will be gone.  Those of us who live in this area can see their sere corpses along the sea cliffs.

But, for as long as it lasts, I am going to take a few moments each evening to watch the bats and the agave waltz through their life cycle.

After all, it is an end that faces us all.


Denkura said...

Not that there is anything wrong with that..

Steve Cotton said...

Not at all.

Felipe Zapata said...

Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. I have the same agave in my yard, and it's doing the same thing. It's been out there about five years, and it's significantly larger than your version, but it's the same plant.  It has sent up the stalk amazingly high, but it has not put out flowers.

I feared that it would die when this process is over. Dang. I wish it wouldn't, mostly because I'll have to dig it up, and it's quite big.

Such is life.

Nita said...

Guess I  had a more knowledgeable guide. I did a tequila tour and the guide said none of those things.Seemed to be a smart fellow.

Steve Cotton said...

You will probably find some shoots coming up from the base of the old plant.  But I have seen the big ones after they have died.  They leave a lot of fiber behind -- even when they dry.

Steve Cotton said...

I hear the lily comment around here a lot in the winter time when the northern tequila drinkers descend and share their tour knowledge base with the rest of us.

Felipe Zapata said...

Getting babies off that thing is no problem. They are quite prolific. But Mama will have to be taken out completely. There are aesthetics to consider.

Steve Cotton said...

In my case, the dearly departed will fit quite nicely on my compost pile.

Rushappraisals said...

Gosh, I was really enjoying the story, the pictures are great, I appreciate the bats and love watching them dive bomb the pool at night and the agave is a very interesting plant and it does look like a daylily, just lovely, right up to the last sentence, now I'm depressed, feeling old and stuck with thinking about the inevitable "end that faces us all", like a tune stuck in your head. Thanks, amigo.

Steve Cotton said...

I am always there to serve up equal portions of yin and yang.

LeslieLimon said...

I've heard the lily comment/story many times, but I've never actually seen one up close and personal. (Until now!)  :)  

Steve Cotton said...

Glad to be of service.

Christine said...

During the summer agaves can produce several pounds of flowers each, which can be boiled or roasted. The stalks before they blossom in summer can also be roasted and taste like molasses. If you leave a depression in the bottom after taking the stalk it will fill with sap, which can be used to make tequila. The root is caustic, so you need to handle it carefully, but once cooked for a couple of days it's sweet.  Flower nectar can be used to make sauces or sugar and bottled will last up to two years. What can be eaten from each species differs significantly, this is just a general overview. Check out your own agave.

blog said...

Good info. We have a bunch of these threatening plants at our front wall in Puerto. The blooms are rather waxy looking. Did not know they will die after the big shoot.

Steve Cotton said...

I chatted with my agave this morning. It would prefer to simply flower and die.

Steve Cotton said...

We should all be so lucky to go out in a blaze of glory.