Agave Stalk Mystery

Last spring I felt the need of a walking stick. I thought a third leg would be helpful while negotiating steep canyon-sides and rocky washes. Luckily Southeast Arizona is well-supplied with several plants which have flower-stalks eminently suitable for use as walking sticks: the Agaves, the Yuccas, and the Sotols. My favorite is the stalk of a recently-deceased Agave palmeri. The stalks are light, easily cut, and last for at least a season of walking.

When I moved out to our unfinished cabin in the Sulphur Springs Valley I brought with me an agave stalk I had cut up on Juniper Flats. After a couple of hot and wind-swept months I retreated to the relative comfort of an apartment in Bisbee, complete with such amenities as a kitchen, internet, a shower, and a toilet, where I recovered my digestive equanimity and played a lot of music.

Meanwhile my agave stalk was shut up in the cabin through the months of July through October. Early this month I examined the stalk before setting out on a walk. Oddly enough, the stalk was studded with filmy tubes which spiraled up the shaft, delicate one-quarter-inch-long structures with thread-like filaments radiating from their ends:


A closer view:


What creature could have left these husks behind? Perhaps moth larvae which spent their summer happily feeding upon the pith which fills agave stalks?

There were several areas on the stalk which had the husks arranged in a spiral, as if the mother who had laid the eggs had wound her way around the stalk, methodically depositing eggs as she went:


I’ll have to ask questions of some naturalist friends, as this phenomenon puzzles me. Google certainly was not much help!


4 comments on “Agave Stalk Mystery

  1. Fred Cairns says:

    Woodworm? That’s the obvious answer for the little round holes. Get that stick out of your property as quickly as you can!

  2. Larry Ayers says:

    The boring larvae may very well have been mescal worm larvae; I suppose there are several species of moth whose larval form feeds on the innards of agave stalks, but who knows — maybe there’s just the one!

  3. Larry Ayers says:

    Here’s a quote from the book referred to in Farm Boss’s comment. Google Books seemed to be unwilling to allow me to copy and paste from Small’s book, so here’s a screenshot of a passage I found to be interesting:


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