Cynthia Raddingis the Gussenhoven Distinguished Professor of Latin American Studies and History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of Landscapes of Power and Identity. Comparative Histories in the Sonoran Desert and the Forests of Amazonia from Colony to Republic (Duke University Press, 2005) and is currently working on a book project, Bountiful Deserts and Imperial Shadows in Northern New Spain.
This article brings together research in ethnobotany, ecology, and history to show the mutually reinforcing relations between humans and agaves. Its theoretical framework integrates three foundational concepts relating to the production of space, the evolution of life-forms, and the creation of desert landscapes. Centered on the mutually formative relations between the agave family of plants and both indigenous and colonial populations in northern Mexico, this study challenges the conventional distinction between wild and cultivated plants and addresses different modes of cultural diffusion between Mesoamerica and the arid lands of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Its aim is to relate the botanical complexities of the Agaveae to the development of different systems of knowledge and cultural beliefs relating to the plant and to the historical communities that have intervened in its cultivation and distribution.