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
16-27" (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 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, Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. • 9/7/2005 • by Carlos Velazco
The tall foreground plant is the lechuguilla; the cactus behind is probably Engelmann prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii). · 11/20/2010 · Living Desert, near Carlsbad Caverns, Elev. ~3200', New Mexico