Protectors of the Agave

The Aztec/Mexica Goddess Mayahuel is a deity of the Agave.

This will be a watercolor/gouache painting, and potentially also a woodcut print, on paper or canvas, that I aim to introduce to promote the Agave Festival in Tucson, Arizona – an annual, world-class gathering of Agave cultivators and product (Mezcal, Tequila) businesspeople, as well as of botanists and conservation professionals and sustainability/justice activists.

The artwork showcases fauna that is associated with conservation in the Sonoran Desert with an emphasis on the focal animal – a regal horned lizard (Phrynosoma solare), a reptile that is sacred to the Sonoran Desert’s Indigenous people and that is associated with protection, ancestry, and wisdom. Other species in the work include desert spiny lizards (Sceloporus magister), one of Tucson’s local favorites, the northern jaguar (Panthera onca), the Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus), and many more.

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Agave, from the Greek word meaning “noble,” is a genus of monocots native to hot and arid regions of the Americas and Caribbean, and here in the Sonoran Desert, it is an ecologically and culturally crucial species; a noble plant indeed. Ecologically, it supports a wide range of pollinators, from moths to hummingbirds, to bats, and for some bat species it is critical to enabling cross-continental migrations. 

The genus is primarily known for its succulent and xerophytic species that typically form large rosettes of strong, fleshy leaves with spined edges that protect them from herbivores. Agave is a sacred plant consumed by Indigenous people as a nutritious food, including both its flowers and root, hence why local Ndée (Apache) peoples were known to colonists as Mezcaleros (see my blog on ancient Hohokam cultivation of Agave murpheyi in the ‘featured articles’ menu).

“The plant was also used to make paper and diverse weaves were also produced from its paste and tough and twisted fibers, with the weaving needles crafted from its terminal thorns. Its juice was fermented into an intoxicating beverage, commonly known throughout Mexico as pulque, and in more modern times, the commercially popular distillations of Mescal and Tequila are consumed the world over. The sap was used as a soap and sweetener. In summary, the agave was nutrition, drink, clothing, and writing materials for diverse Indigenous peoples, from the Apache to the Aztecs, and continues to be an economically and culturally significant plant in the Americas. Surely, never did nature enclose in so compact a form so many of the elements of human comfort and civilization.”

In summary, this artwork is a celebration of the ecological and cultural significance of the Agave in the Sonoran Desert and a tribute to some of my favorite sacred species of the place where I live and work.