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 with 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 announced 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 itch! 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.