Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Short History of the Agave - for Bom

Agave tequilana
The agave has been around for 60 millions years. The native range of these sun loving plants is in Southern Mexico and Northern South America. They are used to hot deserts and the arid conditions of sun drenched mountain slopes. Agaves have been consumed in one way or another for nine thousand years and continue to be used primarily for commercial purposes.
Agaves have been used as medicinal plants for the relief of inflammation, however, some such as A. bovicornuta cause dermatitis and some other species are so toxic that they have been used to poison the tips of arrows.

One tribe of New Mexican Apache Indians had many uses for the agave. They ate the mescal agave and turned its fibres into rope, cords, sandals and baskets. It was used as fuel and also as 'quids' in firearms.It could also be used to sew with: when the needle-sharp tip of the agave is snapped off it comes away with a string of vascular tissue that serves as thread.

The fibres are durable and sunlight resistant and those from A. sisalana are made into handwoven sisal rugs and more recently into cords and ropes that will hold up your clematis, tie that mattress tightly onto the roof of your car, or hold cargo in its place on transport ships. In the 1400's when Mexico was at the height of its power, the fibres of A. pacifica were used in clothing. Today sisal is grown in Kenya, Tanzania and Brazil and plays a significant economic role for these countries.

A century later when the Aztec civilization was in decline they traded their knowledge of the agave with the Spanish who gave them the technology of the still. The process of distilling grains into liquor was yet unknown to the Mexicans at this time. Naturally they looked to the agave as a possibility and soon were distilling a variety of intoxicating spirits. Pulque is made by fermenting the 'honey water' that is collected in the hollowed-out stems of the agave. Mescal is made from mashed mescal heads, or cabeza, made from the maguey plant (a form of agave, Agave americana). Mescal is double distilled and is aged in the bottle for four years. By the 1620's the Mexicans found if they cooked the fleshy leaf base of A. tequilana they could convert the natural starches into sugars. When pulped and fermented, the sugars became the drink the most famous for Mexico, the tequila.


This post is entered into Bom's birthday prize give away. Happy Birthday Bom.
The information on the agave comes from Bill Law's book Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Waterlilies and a shameless plug for a friend

A visit to the RBG in Hamilton/Burlington provided some of these lovely photos taken by a good friend Julie. It was a hot sunny day, one among the many during our heatwave of the past couple of weeks. 

The two gazing pools with waterlilies are new to the gardens and are a wonderful draw for the visitors. 

There is a nice specimen of the tree Metasequoia or Dawn Redwood. It is not huge yet, but is getting there. A great tree-climbing tree.

Another new addition is the Living Wall. I have seen a few other such walls but hear they can be difficult to grow well. Happily this is not the case for this one. 

Flowers and butterflies seem to go together well. Kind of like peanut butter and jam, mmnn.

If you would like to see more of Julie's photos visit her blog here. Also, she is a whiz at Social Media, go here.