Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/351

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is more likely to be affected by the weather, but is strong and durable.

The Greek word agave signifies "noble," and the plant well merits the name, both for its majesty and beauty, and for its manifold aids to man. Nothing on these plains is so imposing in appearance as the maguey.

Its leaves are sometimes ten feet in length, a foot in breadth, and eight inches thick. From the centre of these great leaves, after collecting its strength for a number of years, it sends up a giant flower-stalk, twenty or thirty feet high, upon which is clustered a mass of greenish yellow flowers, sometimes more than three thousand in number. After this supreme effort, the exhausted plant dies; it has performed the service to nature for which it was created. From the fact that the aloes in the North takes a great many years to gather strength for sending up this great central shaft, has arisen the story that it blossoms but once in a hundred years, and it has derived the name of the Century Plant.

"In the maguey estates," says an observant writer, "the plants are arranged in lines, with an interval of three yards between them. If the soil be good, they require no attention on the part of the proprietor until the period of flowering arrives, at which time the plant commences to be productive. This period is very uncertain; ten years, however, may be taken as the average, for in a plantation of one thousand aloes it is calculated that one hundred are in flowering every year.

"The Indians know, by infallible signs, almost the very hour at which the stem, or central shoot, destined to produce the flower, is about to appear, and they anticipate it by making an incision and extracting the whole heart, or central portion of the stem, as a surgeon would take an arm out of the socket, leaving nothing but the thick outside rind, thus forming a natural basin or well about two feet in depth and one and a half in diameter. Into this the sap, which nature intended for the support of the gigantic central shoot, continually oozes in such quantities that it is found necessary to remove it twice, and even three times, during the day. In order to facilitate this