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Plant Vandals Destroy Endangered Agave Titanota Cluster at the Garden

Some visitors have carved their initials into these plants, threatening their health and conservation of the species.

Sept. 22, 2021 - Plant vandals have all but killed a cluster of endangered agaves in the ABQ BioPark’s Desert Conservatory at the Botanic Garden.

“Our poor agaves look like graffiti walls at this point,” said Maria Thomas, ABQ BioPark plant curator. Some visitors have carved their initials and names into the Agave titanota, threatening their health and the conservation of the species, she said.

 “It’s just really sad,” Thomas said. “We’re stewards of these plants. This vandalism not only puts these particular plants at risk, but it’s also concerning because this is an endangered species found only in a small area of southern Mexico.”

The Botanic Garden has been home to the Agave titanota for years, but staff started noticing carving here and there a little over a year ago. They responded by installing a sign that asked visitors not to carve into the agaves, but Thomas said that only seemed to make the situation worse. “The tagging increased tenfold,” she said.

Agave Titanota Vandalism

The vandalism is affecting more than the aesthetics of the agaves; the damaged plants are now suffering from scale, a disease that impacts stressed plants and weakens them.

ABQ BioPark staff have removed some of the agaves to try to salvage them and to discourage further vandalism in the conservatory, where vandals have now moved on to tagging other plants. However, the cluster of agaves was difficult to move and one was lost in the process. Thomas said she hopes to produce some offshoots—baby plants—from the remaining adult agaves.

“It’s incredibly sad that we have to resort to moving our agaves, but hopefully we will be able to grow some new healthy plants,” Thomas said. “This has been very difficult for our garden staff, who put so much time and passion into caring for our plants. To see our collection defaced like this is disheartening.”

This species has been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and is listed as endangered. As a CITES protected species, vandalism to the Agave titanota is a federal crime and anyone who is caught damaging the plant can be prosecuted.

The ABQ BioPark is looking into installing motion detectors and/or cameras to catch anyone trying to deface any of the other plants in the conservatory. Thomas also encouraged visitors to speak up if they notice another visitor damaging plants at the garden by calling 311 or alerting garden staff.