Agave, a genus of cactuslike plants. Agaves are native to arid and semiarid regions of North, Central, and South America. Some species are cultivated as ornamentals or for their fibers and sap.
The agave plant has a short stem with a rosette of large, fleshy, wax-covered leaves at the base. The leaves are grayish-green and have a sharp spine at the tip. In larger species, they grow to nine feet (2.7 m) long; in smaller species, to one foot (30 cm). Agaves have small, tubular flowers that are white, yellow, or greenish. They are borne in loose clusters on a stalk that grows to 30 feet (9 m) high. Agaves reproduce by seeds, by sending out suckers (shoots that develop roots), or by producing bulbils (bulblike structures). They grow in well-drained, sandy soil.
The century plant, also called American aloe and maguey, is among the most widely planted ornamental agaves. Its leaves grow to 5 feet (1.5 m) long and 10 inches (25 cm) wide. After 50 to 60 years, the plant bears small, yellow flowers on a 20- to 30-foot (6-to 9-m) stalk. After flowering, the plant usually dies.
The sisal and henequen, two species of agave native to Mexico, are cultivated for their fibers. The fibers are used for matting, carpets, and rope.
The sap from Parry's century plant, an agave found in Arizona, Texas, and northern Mexico, is used in making the alcoholic beverages pulque, mescal, and tequila. (See Pulque; Tequila.)
The century plant is Agave americana; sisal, A. sisalana; henequen, A. fourcroydes; Parry's century plant, A. parryi. Agaves belong to the family Agavaceae.