Baron Alexander von Humboldt

Baron Alexander von Humboldt

Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian explorer and naturalist of the early 19th century, described the maguey, as the agave plant is known in Mexico, as “the most useful of all the crops that nature has granted the people of North America.” This is because agave, like hemp, is a miracle plant. Its fibers were used by the many indigenous people of Mexico and beyond to make clothing, rope, floor mats and other textiles; it was a source of food, water, medicine, soap, glue, paper, and thread; its leaves were used in roofs and fences; and its spines were turned into weapons, tools, and sewing needles. Because of its utility, the Agave holds a place of esteem in traditional Mexican culture.

Most importantly to this website and the Fundacion Agaves Silvestres, the agave plant was, and still is, a source of an intoxicating beverage — pulque. With the arrival of the stills (alembiques) sometime in the 16th century, some creative mind figured out how to distill the agave plant into “mezcal”. Early on, the Spaniard colonizers called this new spirit “vino de mezcal” or simply “vino mezcal”.

Espadin Agave with Quiote

Espadin Agave with Quiote

Carl Linneaus, the 17th century botanist, gave the plant its scientific name of “agavaceae”. Of the 200+ varieties of agaves worldwide, Mexico has 159 of these varieties of which 119 are endemic. Agave life span is usually between 10 and 30 years.  At the end of their time, they shoot up a stalk (called a “quiote”) which flowers to reproduce and then die. Agaves used for making spirits, be it Tequila, Mezcal, Bacanora or otherwise, take 7 to 25 years to mature and are cut before the stalk has a chance to flower.

In addition, commercial production of spirits in Mexico has impacted landscapes due to both deforestation and over-exploitation of both cultivated and wild species. This project concerns itself with the latter: over-exploitation of wild agaves. If too many wild agaves are harvested before they have a chance to adequately reproduce, the over-production of spirits based on these agave varieties could totally obliterate the plant.

Enter Fundación Agaves Silvestres Project #1 — Our Nursery.

A pile of shoots of Madre Cuishe (agave karwinskii)

A pile of shoots of Madre Cuishe (agave karwinskii)

Our nursery is on a plot of land outside the town of San Dionisio Ocotepec and we have been growing Tobalá and Madre Cuishe agaves — the two wild varieties most readily found around San Dionisio Ocotepec — from shoots. These have been growing nicely in our nursery for about one year now. The next step is to reforest them — this next phase will be carried out in waves throughout 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/02/18/cam-pais.html