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Agave lechuguilla Torr.

Lechuguilla, shin dagger

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassLiliopsidaMonocots (plants with a single seed leaf); includes the lily family
SubclassLiliidaeIncludes lilies, orchids, and many others
OrderAsparagalesA diverse group that includes asparagus
FamilyAsparagaceaeAgaves, asparagus, hyacinths, and others
GenusAgaveFrom Greek, meaning “noble”
SpecieslechuguillaNamed for the Lechuguilla Desert in Arizona, one of the places where these are found

About plant names...

Lechuguilla is a common North American native species. It is an indicator species of the Chihuahuan Desert. Indigenous cultures relied on this plant's saponins to produce soap, as this 1922 report describes. This is a highly variable species, as is implied by the many past scientific names that have since been found to be the same species.

Identification: The leaf rosette is 10-18″ (25-45 cm) tall and 1-2′ (40-68 cm) around, composed of 8-60 leaves, but usually around 20. It often produces "offsets"—new nearby plants. Leaves are thick, curved, and tipped with sharp spines (hence the name "shin dagger"). They have irregularly spaced teeth on the leaf edges. After about 30 years, the lechuguilla grows a stalk 6½-16′ (2-5 m) high, blooms with red- or purple-shaded yellow flowers, and keels over dead. (This rather extreme approach to flowering is shared by most agaves.)

Edibility: Poisonous Skull & Crossbones Several agents in lechuguilla make it unpalatable to people; but sheep, goats and sometimes cattle are poisoned when they attempt to eat it. This is easily avoided by making sure more desirable forage is available.

Agave lechuguilla (lechuguilla, shin dagger)

Agave lechuguilla, Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. • 9/7/2005 • by Carlos Velazco


Irish, Mary & Irish, Gary, Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants: A Gardener’s Guide, Timber Press, 2000, p. 132

Online References:


Chihuahuan Desert Plants



The USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database

Agave lophantha Schiede var. poselgeri (Salm-Dyck) A. Berger


Agave lechuguilla description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.

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Agave lechuguilla (lechuguilla, shin dagger)

The tall foreground plant is the lechuguilla; the cactus behind is probably Engelmann prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii). · 1/15/1996 · Living Desert, near Carlsbad Cav, New Mex­ico

Range: Zones 7-10:

About this map...