Gardening

Agave – Gardening can be dangerous


By Margaret Sheard…….

For those gardeners who are waiting for the Mediterranean heat-wave to stop before venturing out into their garden to give it plenty of tender loving care and help it recover, this was an account given by a friend in 2012 as a warning and it was published in a local newspaper. As the community in North Cyprus will be tackling the tidying up of their gardens with the cooler weather just around the corner, we felt it would be a good idea to re-publish this information about the attractive but very unfriendly Agave species of plants.

“I recently met up with some friends who told me that the previous day they had battled wAgave plantith an Agave plant which they wanted to remove from their garden. Mike showed me his arm which had a nasty looking red rash and at the time it was thought that it was the sharp spikes of the plant which had been constantly jabbing his arm while he wrestled with the plant. Since then the problem got progressively worse and it transpires that this particular plant can produce a very nasty result when touching the skin. My friend has done some research and has submitted the following article as a warning to people dealing with this type of plant, and this is what she has to say:-

Beware the Tequila Plant!

By Pam Kennedy

Returning home after a long break away I looked at our garden from the patio and was amazed at the size of the once small Agave plant that I had planted 2 years previously. I had lovingly prepared a circular bed and used different coloured stone to make a pattern of the Ying Yang symbol. I had then chosen small cacti looking plants for this bed and used blue solar lights under the knife edged pattern of leaves to produce an interesting effect of shadow and light at night. I was very pleased with the result and saw myself as the next generation of landscape gardener…. oh how wrong could I have been!

The Agaves had enjoyed the wet winter and feasted on the rain so much they had grown obese. ‘These have got to go’ I announcAgave plant 2ed to my husband the next day. One was over a meter tall and a clump of 3 took up a meter of the bed. They had sent out loads of runners with babies too. The runners were under the stones and popping up all over the place. In all there were 7 large Agave cacti and 6-8 babies. The Agave cactus (or as it is commonly known, the Century Plant) is a succulent rather than cacti. The plants send out rosettes which flower and then die. The sap is highly dangerous! I didn’t know this at the time of attacking them, but boy do I wish I had!

Off I went to the garage for tough gloves (as the plants have super spikes on the ends of their leaves), shears, pruning shears and a large fork. I tried to dig the big one out but no chance of that. So I decided to cut off the sharp end spikes so that I could get nearer to the plant and then fork it out. I immediately felt my arms itching so I popped back indoors and washed my arms and put on a long sleeved shirt. I managed to get some of the runners out and the babies. One runner was as thick as my arm! But I couldn’t move the big one at all. A call to my husband was now in order. He set to work with gusto and we managed to get down to the stump but now an axe was needed to break the root. After 5 hours and much use of selected expletives, the bed was free of these beasts. However the worst was yet to come.

Later that day my husband’s arm came up in an angry red rash and boy did it Rash caused by Agave plantitch! We tried all the creams we could think of and only ‘After Sun’ seemed to have a cooling effect. We looked on the internet and this is an example of the information we found:

“The juice from many species of agave can cause acute contact dermatitis. It will produce reddening and blistering lasting one to two weeks. Episodes of itching may recur up to a year thereafter, even though there is no longer a visible rash. Irritation is, in part, caused by calcium oxalate raphides. Dried parts of the plants can be handled with bare hands with little or no effect. If the skin is pierced deeply enough by the needle-like ends of the leaf from a vigorously growing plant, this can also cause blood vessels in the surrounding area to erupt and an area some 6–7 cm across appear to be bruised. This may last up to three weeks.’ Agave tequilana, commonly called blue agave (agave azul), tequila agave, mezcal or maguey is an agave plant that is an important economic product of Jalisco, Mexico, due to its role as the base ingredient of tequila, a popular distilled spirit. The high production of sugars, mostly in the form of fructose, in the core of the plant is its most important characteristic, making it suitable for the preparation of alcoholic beverages”

Now over 2 weeks later, and having sought advice from the pharmacist, my husband’s arm still looks like a war zone, with bright red patches and oozing spots. They are gradually fading but a piece of advice …. if you are thinking of growing these plants, don’t plant them in your garden, alternatively put them in a pot well away from anyone or plant a geranium instead. They like the dry soil but won’t bite you where it hurts.”

So, be warned and take note of a few hints to avoid contracting a nasty rash, bruising and/or irritation. Not everything in the garden is friendly.

46 replies »

  1. Thanks for the article. I have come know the evil ways of the Agave plant from my pruning efforts on the beasts I have on my property. The best advice for pruning activities is to wear protective clothing(long sleeves and long pants and to be careful not to touch your bare skin with your gloves. I made that mistake when I rubbed my glove on my forearm. I must have an ultra-allergy to the Agave juice, because my forearm immediately lit up within 15 seconds. My rash is subsiding now after 5 days.

    Another thing is to avoid contact on a hot day, as the perspiration facilitates spreading of the agave juice and thus more rash.

  2. I learned this the hard way today when I got it all over my arms, it is still itching hours later. Can you tell me what you used on the rash to help the intense itching. This must have been the worst itching I have ever had, even worse than when I had chicken pox at age 16!

    • Oh dear, it really is important to take care when dealing with this plant and maybe others. The article was written by an acquaintance whose husband experienced the same as you but this was quite a long time ago and I am not sure what they did to control the itching. If you have not found anything that works, I would suggest going to see your local pharmacist who may be able to suggest a suitable remedy.

      Sorry you have had such a bad experience and hopefully people reading this will learn to take care.

      • going through this hive scene for the 4th time. shot from doctor and honestly baking soda/water paste is the only itch reliever during work hours on my thighs and both arms, oatmeal soak twice nightly and 10 days later it is drying up but will itch for sometime to come. good luck

      • You can figure on this lasting at lest ten days this after going to the doctor and it can come back up to a year according my Dr. Even a month later it still ices every day or two

  3. I myself just now had a similar encounter a few minutes a go haha. I was cleaning outside in my backyard and there were two big agave plants my dad had brought home, unaware of the consequence my dad started chopping one up with a machete. A few minutes later he started to itch and he left to wash off, me being a 16 year old and ignorant thought it wouldnot have affect on me haha so I started chopping away too. Moments after I itched like crazy! The itching lasted a few minutes after I washed off with soap and i put rubbing alcohol all over my arms and face. Let this be a lesson to anyone who doesn’t listen the first time

  4. So I’ve had this issue twice first time was real bad the second time I used some chemistry know how and applied lemon juice to the affected area and let it sit for a minute or so before washing it off. At first this will cause some additional pain but in the long run it dissolves the oxalate crystals and significantly reduced the amount of itch and even reduced the rash over the next couple hours.

  5. A follow up to my lemon juice comment. The itching did come back a couple times across the days following my exposure. Each time I reapplied the lemon and it really helped with the itch. I also healed much faster than the first time I was exposed and didnt use the lemon.

  6. Maurizio November 2015

    I have this giant blue agave plant in my back yard that I have been trimming for years. Almost impossible to be careful enough not to get some of the juice on you. The itch is so bad that I would scratch to the point of breaking the skin. Almost felt that opening the irritated skin let it heal faster but I am sure that was all in my mind. All in all, the best agave is the agave in a tequila bottle. I will get rid of this plant so I have to never deal with it again. First, I have to heal now then God knows how I am going to protect myself. I went to the city of Tequila mexico and have watched these poor people cut the pinas and carry then to the furnace to start the fermentation process. I don’t know how they do it. Horror job ! This is one serious irritation. Makes a bee sting feel like nothing ! Great to have this article to make people aware but for sure they will find it after the event.

  7. We just had the horror of an expierence with the grand ole agave. We just cut down a huge agave and when chopping the pine-apple looking core into pieces, my husband broke out into a rash immediately. We could not understand why he was itching so badly. We made a paste out of dirt and water to help the itch, but to no avail. I’m not sure if the dirt made it worse. But now, two days later, there are thousands of bumps on his arms. And to top it off the bumps are getting little white dots on them…I think we will have to go to the doctors. Cortizone and benadryl are only helping a little bit. Has anybody had to go to the doctors? Thanks for this important information. BE AWARE !!!!!

  8. Yes, I went to the doctor after three days, Cortizone and benadryl very little effect. The doctor prescribed Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream, this helps some but not much. The other thing advice he offered was to make paste of warm water and oatmeal, put on it three time a day this help the itch for a little while. I am itching and burning as I write five days latter. Oh by the way my Springer spaniel Had gone blind and she run into this giant agave and come out screaming, I did not know how poisonous this plant is to dogs, she died the next morning on the to the Vet.

  9. So this just happened to me about 20 minutes while trimming down my huge agave plants for the first time. I had no idea so here I am searching the Internet for validation about my allergic reaction.

    Luckily I also have tons of aloe vera; I’ve been running it on the affected areas and it seems to have calmed things down for me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed this doesn’t get any worse.

    • Sorry to hear you suffered from the Agave plant, and hope it doesn’t cause you too much of a problem. One of the suggestions we received was to smooth lemon juice on the rash, so that may be worth a try. There have been so many people who have experienced this awful rash from the Agave plant.

      • Thank you! I continued rubbing aloe for a couple hours after the initial itching and it felt better. Then I did a colloidal oatmeal bath followed by a rash soothing lotion. I’m doing better. Lemon juice will be my next step if needed.

  10. I just found this out the hard way but no where as bad as your husband. I had a huge Mexican agave l wanted gone cause of the spikes. Whellbarrow, gloves, saw and lopes. Cut all the leaves off and then l was left with a large stump. I managed to drag it and with all my might was able to lift it in the wheelbarrow. Big mistake. Immediately l started to itch unbearably. I had to put the cuttings in the bin grimacing and rushed inside and sprayed vinegar on me. I am a little itchy but it’s slowly going thank goodness. This has just happened that’s when l looked up alergies and found this site. I am in Australia.

  11. I found this site by trying to find a name of this horrible plant I attempted to rip out of our garden. Agave a name I will always remember now. It left me with a horrible burning itch and bumps all over. Thank you for the helpful information.

      • Got stuck in the finger 3 weeks ago it bleed really good thought that was good but a couple of hours later finger really swollen has went down some but still swollen will it ever go back down I can bend it about half way or do o need to go to a dermatology dr.

  12. Yep, Blue Agave!!! Damn that plant. I am covered with the same rash you have but its on my leg. Seems to be from a brown gooey substance that came out of the plant when I removed some leaves on the bottom. My gardener had 10 of them that I bought cheep and thought I got a deal…lol. Now I know why his other customers wanted them removed from the property. I tried all the same stuff everyone else has and so far after 2 days its still just as bad,red,bumpy,itchy.

    • Hi Debbie, sorry to hear that you have been attacked by the dreaded Agave plant. There are many who have suffered the same problem. Hope the bumps and itching goes away soon.

  13. Debbie did you try aloe vera? I slathered it on every chance I got and it seemed to work well for me and I have very allergic and sensitive skin.

  14. Do the bumps spread? I learned the hard way, I wave miserable bumps all over my legs and hand. It looks like it’s spreading. What to do? Help!!!

  15. I was cutting a 10 year old Agave plant withe a saw and started to itch within 5 minutes. I first thought it was some small bug so I rushed to the shower and I washed it off with soap and water. Then I saw the rash on my legs and arms. I put some coconut oil which stopped the itch within seconds. As soon as it start to itch again I also used Vitamin E oil. The sap from Aloe plant also stops the itch.

  16. This was very helpful, my fiance is in landscaping and learned yesterday those plants don’t play. The rash got worse today and the blistering started… And of course me working in an office i google everything. This was very informative. Would calamine lotion help, or Benadryl? What did the pharmacist prescribe? Some kind of topical ointment?

    • Hello Adri,

      We have had many encouraging comments about easing the discomfort caused by this plant and the use of lemon juice has been mentioned a few times so do take time to scan the comments again as you may find more information there.

  17. Hi there just goggled this article as also came out with a terrible rash after working on my Agave plant . I thought it helpful to let you know that immediately after the rash appeared I cut a piece of my Aloe Ferox plant and rubbed it’s sap into my arms after washing the area with soap and water. Hey presto it’s six hours later and my skin is 100 % clear

  18. boy did I ever get a rash from trying to remove a blue agave I ended up in the emergency room and was prescribed 60 mg of prednisone for 7 days , 4 Benadryl pills one every 6 hours for 7 days and famotidine twice a day for 7 days to calm the stomach from producing too many histamines. this just happened yesterday. I have to stay out of work for a couple days..change the bedding and wash all my clothes for the next two days so it does not spread on me. as it is my legs and arms are covered even though I wore long clothes. the heat and the sweat it just soaked through me….Damn Plant!!!!!!!

  19. I unfortunately experienced the same symptoms when I attempted to remove one of the Agave plants from my front yard. I wore long trouser pants and long sleeve shirt (sleeves were rolled down to my hands) with gardening gloves.
    I used a general long hand saw to cut individual arms of Agave plant.
    As I dismembered the plant and preceded to fill up the gardening bin, when one of the spikes was protruding out of the bin and it pierced near my elbow into the Ulnar vain which produced alot of excruciatingly itching and burning sensations local to the elbow and towards the hand region. Minutes later I saw the dilation of all the visible vains including the sensation moving onto my other arm.
    I immediately washed both arms up to elbows for few minutes but the itching persisted. I rubbed grapa/rakija alcohol and washed the arns again and rubbed baby rash ointment cream. The itching subsided after 5 to 10 minutes and the result has left red dots all over both arms up to elbows.
    The next few days got progressively better with the itching and red sores on my arms. I did not apply any other ointment apart from the incident day.
    I guess the lesson learnt here is to take precautions when cutting this Agave plant down. Wear double eye and face protection, fully covering arms legs and body and also wear long sleeve chemical resistant rubber gloves.
    Even though I wore long sleeved shirt, the juice from the plant permeated through the sleeves of the shirt and onto my skin.
    I have not yet found the long term effects of the Agave plant in contact with human skin online.
    This plant needs to come with a very clear and visible, easy to read sign not to approach or cut unless wearing specified PPE. It should be commonly well known of the effects and its dangers across the country and the world that if you plan to keep this plant in your garden, how to avoid contact with it and how to handle it if one was to remove it or dismember it.
    I hope this helps my fellow kind and the persistently ignorant such as myself. Keep safe out there…

    • It is indeed a lethal plant and many have succumbed to its vicious juice. I agree there should be some sort of warning when plants are sold, so this should be addressed by garden centres etc.

  20. I was cutting a large Agave plant with a chainsaw 2 days ago and developed a manic itch within minutes. 10 minutes under a hot shower + neat dettol on the affected areas took the itch away permanently but the welts are still present two-days later (but not itchy). Dettol definitely did the trick.

  21. Just found out the hard way about this plant yesterday. Had a 20 year old one so took to it with the chainsaw while wearing shorts and tee shirt, everywhere that was touched by the bits flying off chainsaw now in a rash and itching!!! Giving the lemon juice ago and will apply manuka honey extract and see how we go. Will get digger in to remove rest of plant now. cheers Toddy in New Zealand

  22. Must be God that has led me to this site , I made bread about 2 weeks ago and instead of using corn syrup ( because folks say it’s so “bad” ) I used agave syrup . The first day that I ate that delicious bread I started feeling odd . After that I started getting heart palpatations . Have had them for 2 weeks and didn’t know why . Today I’m thinking the reason I don’t feel good is because of Agave , blue or gold . I am sensitive to different foods . I do remember eating Agave on toast about a yr. ago and I didn’t feel good . I was a little sick but didn’t apply it to the Agave . Thanks to all of you . Lord bless each one !

  23. I just learned the hard way about affects of getting this stuff on skin. Ouch! Jumped in the shower, washing wasn’t helping at all. So I filled up the tub, hot water and soaked. Pain gone almost immediately, after about 10 min could lift leg/arm out of water without the pain returning. It’s been about an hour, no signs of anything at all. I searched online for treatment options, found nothing about soaking, worked for me, maybe posting this comment will help someone else!

  24. I have a giant agave cactus and one of the leafs was blocking my steps so I took my chain saw and cut the limp off, It’s huge, I had shorts and t-shirt on. With in minutes my arms and legs were burning so bad like someone threw battery acid on me. It was horrible. I ran into the shower but the water and different soaps had no effect on the burning. I grab some baking soda and applied that all over and it eased the burning. Now I have a nasty looking rash everywhere that was exposed. After reading these posts I guess I better go to the dermatologist.

  25. Just experienced this myself. Had no clue what was going on. My husband and I were removing a huge one from our flower bed with a bunch of babies. He cut off all the spikes to make it easier to remove. When I was throwing some out I got the juice on my arm but was unaware that that was what caused the itching and burning. I thought a spider or something got me. It wa only when I was jumping on the spikeless juicy stump while he was axing at the roots did I realize the juice flying all over my legs was setting me on fire. He was not affected by it at all. He thought I was crazy when I told him I was on fire. 2 days later I’m covered in tiny red blisters everywhere. No fun! Lesson learned.

  26. I found similar symptoms, painful itching with any contact on the skin. Used vinegar, which seemed to help, then took a hot shower with soap and the itching subsided fairly quickly. Also took a couple of Benadryl just in case. I consider myself lucky that it wasn’t worse.

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