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Scientific: Agave americana
Common: century plant, maguey, American aloe
Family: Asparagaceae (subfamily Agavoideae)
Origin: Slopes on the east and west of south central Mexico highlands, but has naturalized worldwode in locations diverse locations such as parts of Texas, the West Indies, South America, the Mediterranean Basin, Africa, Canary Islands, India, China, Thailand, and Australia.

Pronounciation: A-GA-ve a-mer-i-KAN-a

Hardiness zones
USDA 9-11

Landscape Use: Visually strong accent, focal point, barrier plant, specimen, large desert gardens and xeric landscape design themes.

Special warning: Landscape designers need to always be mindful that leaf margins and tips of this audacious landscape specimen are especially sharp and pointed. Use century plant in landscapes with much forethought and discretion!

Form & Character: Upright, stiffly arching, rigid, imposing, erect, stout, immovable, dangerous, xeric.

Growth Habit: Evergreen, succulent and very fibrous, herbaceous perennial, quite variable in final mature size, moderately slow to 3 to 7 feet in height and width, vigorously clumping by formation of multiple basal offshoots from rhizomes (called 'ramets' or 'chupones'), monocarpic or semelparous (individual rosettes die after one reproductive cycle - flowering and fruiting).

Foliage/Texture: Flattened, strap-shaped succulent blue-green leaves, sometimes curved or reflexed, margins toothed but not horny, foliage tapering to a deadly terminal spine, 5-feet long and 10-inches wide, leaves arranged in a rosette pattern; very coarse texture.

Flowers & Fruits: After about 25 years, century plant (or should it be called 'quarter century' plant?) grows a thick, green, arborescent, paniculate, and towering flower stalk after which the flowering rosette or 'mother plant' dies. The flower stalk grows vigorously, is visually striking and persists for months. Individual flowers are yellow, 3- to 4-inches long. Stalks in urban areas will occasionally produce bulbils, an alternative reproductive strategy instead of setting fruit after flowering.

Seasonal Color: None, except when flowering in March to June at the end of its days.

Temperature: Heat tolerant, cold tolerant to 20oF.

Light: Full sun

Soil: Sandy, some loam, well-drained best.

Watering: None once established.

Pruning: None, except some may consider tip pruning the sharp and pointed leaf tips to protect the physical integrity of human beings and inflatable sports balls.

Propagation: Seed (often requires manual pollination) is slow to germinate requiring 1 to 3 months at 70oF, or division of basal offshoots, which is far more readily accessible.

Disease and Pests: Root rot if soil is chronically damp. Agave snout weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus) will attack several agave species in the low desert of Arizona.

Additional comments: Century plant is highly genetically variable growing a diverse range of phenotypes. As such, there have been many recognized varietal (natural and cultivated) selections. Even though there are many variegated cultivars of interest (four listed below), century plant is generally too large and dangerous to be of much use in today's small and fragmented urban landscapes spaces, except as a special desert Christmas tree.

Some of the popular cultivated varieties with variegated leaf patterns include:

Taxonomic tidbits: There are about 200 species in the genus Agave that are native North America, several of which such as Agave desmettiana are smaller and less dangerous to people. The genus name Agave is derived from the Greek word 'agauos' meaning admirable, illustrious or noble in probable reference to the characteristic tall flower spike. Agave was also the queen of Thebes in Greek mythology.

Ethnobotanical uses: The stem cortex of century plant is very rich in saccharine matter and can be eaten when baked. Sweet and nutritious, but rather fibrous. The seed can be ground into a flour and used as a thickener in soups or used with cereal flours when making bread. The flower stalk is roasted and used like asparagus. Sap from the flowering stems is used as a syrup or fermented into pulque or mescal. The sap can also be tapped by boring a hole into the middle of the plant at the base of the flowering stem.

Century plant is antiseptic. The sap is diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative. An infusion of the chopped leaf is purgative and the juice of the leaves is applied to bruises. The plant is used internally in the treatment of indigestion, flatulence, constipation, jaundice and dysentery. Steroid drug precursors are obtained from the leaves. A gum from the root and leaf is used in the treatment of toothache. The root is diaphoretic and diuretic. It is used in the treatment of syphilis. All parts of the plant can be harvested for use as required, they can also be dried for later use. The dried leaves and roots store well.

A special note to the thirsty: Mexican tequila is a type of mezcal, but all mezcals are not tequila. True Mexican tequila is derived from Agave tequilana var. Weber's azul (blue agave).