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The Agave Plant's Asparagus Death Fetish (2017) (theawl.com)
112 points by jjar 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

Not entirely accurate. If you know the whole lifecycle this strange process can make a hell of a lot more sense.

In the right environment, agave also reproduce vegetatively. They put out offshoots, some of which will produce their own roots.

Once you are closed in on all sides by clone siblings, your next best bet is to try to spread to a new spot. Reproducing sexually gives you a chance to expand to the next few habitable areas.

Then you die, leaving an open space in the middle of all your clones. They fill in and one of them has an opportunity to repeat the process in a few years.

So it's like life replicating Conway's Game of Life.

I suppose you could think of it that way.

My read on this is that desert, rocky terrain, and epiphytic plants find small microbiomes where they can survive. Once they have exploited those resources, once they've 'walked' looking for other spots very close by, they can't just move a couple feet away. They have to fly, and fly far, or die trying.

A hothouse in Halifax, Nova Scotia had an agave that bolted so fast they had to remove it from the building. I think it grew six inches per day, that just as interesting that a plant that big can grow that fast.


There's a corpse flower near Grand Rapids, Michigan that's going to have its first bloom since it was planted in 2000 sometime in the next few days, it's currently growing at 3 inches per day:


Thank you!! I'm totally going to check this out.

Plants can grow very fast as long as the part that's growing has not yet turned to wood. Look at grapes to see how fast it can go.

Cute anecdote:

I'm positively blown away by the grapes we planted last year. We had accidentally left a hole in our bird netting and a deer got in and stripped both vines bare, as well as breaking many of the core tendrils. Swore they were going to die; within a month they had doubled their previous size, put out an entirely new and more vigorous crop of leaves, and then proceeded to produce two entire bunches of Riesling. (on year ~1.5 after planting).

As someone who kills most everything I put in the ground, so much love for the robustness of grapes; they probably put out at least a few inches of vine a day even at this point.

You really should go check out a vineyard in November/December. It's absolutely shocking how much of the growth is removed - virtually 100% of it - each year. And every year in late winter/early spring the first bud breaks, and for the next several month you can't even fathom how much they grow.

Here in the South, Kudzu is a vine that will grow about a foot a day, and engulf trees (and abandoned houses).


>Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.


>During World War II, kudzu was introduced to Vanuatu and Fiji by United States Armed Forces to serve as camouflage for equipment and has become a major weed

The irony.

Kudzu was also the name of one of the first hardware detection scripts for early Linux distros

Asparagus, which as we've learned from the article is related to agave, grows to edible length daily.

This was a fun and interesting read. I wanted more like this, but I missed the part where The Awl stopped publication early this year:



I knew I had made a good decision to read this when I got to the line, "Mayahuel was not a cactus either." I wonder where this Frank Smith is writing now.

At least the writers got to have a little fun before they left, with sentences such as "like a fluffle of bunniculas had an agave hoedown"

It was a great little blog for a while. Then it wasn't, then it died. Still, I found out about some really great writers from there. (Maria Bustillos, Natasha Vargas-Cooper among them.)

I had the opposite reaction to the writing quality on display, and therefore to the magazine's fate.

The appearance is surprising, but familiar if you’ve seen a yucca flower: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Yucca_gl... or especially the New Mexico version http://www.americansouthwest.net/plants/agavoideae/yucca-ela... (it’s the New Mexico State flower)

It’s also similar to what many grasses do. I suppose they’re all related to asparagus.

There's a yearly ritual on /r/whatisthisplant of misidentifying blue agave as yucca and vice versa.

Fascinating - I live in NM and have seen both the yucca blossoms but also what appear to be the same thing as those agave spears. I had assumed they were all yucca around these parts as the plants that give off the tall spear blossoms are smaller than the agave I’ve seen in Mexico and SoCal, but I’m thinking they are just another agave variety.

Great, I’ve been wondering what the shorter ones are. They look like the tall yuccas, but have thinner spines and never seem to get taller. Apparently they are Yucca baccata.

Also it’s interesting to identify the various types of spiny grass.

Thanks - I’m thinking of those agave at the bottom with the Black tips. Lots of cool plants in the desert!

The Agave must build up a large store of starch over many years to be able to grow this reproductive organ so quickly. It is this large starchy part of the plant that is harvested in the mature Agave plant to make tequila.

Did anyone else notice the favicon (shown on one's browser tab) for this link? IMO it beautifully depicts the subject of this post. I did a double-take before realizing that it was an awl :)

Fun article! I love asparagus & tequila. Never would have imagined agave was in the same family of plants!

The monocots are a huge clade, making up 23% of all angiosperm (flowering plant) species. Asparagus and agave are related to each other just as much as they are to grasses and bananas. It's like saying snakes and humans are related to each other. Usually when we say two plants are related we mean something like they're in the same family.

I see what your saying, but the article says they ARE in the same family, Asparagaceae. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asparagus

Ah, you're right. I missed the one mention of Asparagacae and was mislead by the (now clearly irrelevant) discussion of monocots.

so, how does it taste?

"Asparagus Death Fetish" was the name of my band in high school.

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