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Agave - Sonoran Desert

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) in Tucson, Arizona was granted National Collections Status in 2010 for the genus Agave by the Plant Collections Network. This institution, founded in 1952, highlights animals, plants, geology, and natural history of the Sonoran Desert region. The mission of the ASDM is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert. Not a “museum” in the usual sense, it is composite of plant, animal, and geologic collections with the goal of making the Sonoran Desert accessible, understandable, and valued.

Inventoried plants in our gardens and exhibits number over 80,000 of around 1,100 taxa. Our Agave collection started early on in our history and has increased incrementally year by year. Currently (2018) on grounds we have over 2000 Agaves in 81 taxa of not only Sonoran Desert region Agaves, but others from outside that area. In addition we have 27 cultivated varieties, forms and hybrids. Our Agave Garden was remodeled in 2017-18, and now featuring dozens of Agave species displayed on and around artificial rocks and ”cliffs” built by our Exhibits Department. Our plant collections are accessioned, labeled, and are being logged in on a GIS system. Soon, a phone app will allow visitors to look at an aerial map, zoom in, and click on a plant’s location. This will bring up more information on that species.

Our living collection is further backed up by a behind-the-scene nursery and a seed bank for long-term storage. We have found that a few decades in a freezer has little effect on Agave seed germination. Seed collected from Agaves on our grounds has the chance of hybridization. We have been pleasantly pleased by some of the results. One of our favorite is our “Red Cow”, a hybrid between Agave colorata (Mezcal Ceniza) and Agave bovicornuta (Cowhorn Agave) with broad, dark green leaves and red teeth.

ASDM has been involved in research of Agaves and pollinators, including 28 years of phenology on over 1000 reproductive Agaves. These blooming records are tied to our rainfall and temperature data.

Collection Holdings