Agave americana, Century Plant, Blue Agave, American Aloe, Maguey

Century Plant

Agave americana

Common Names: Blue Agave, American Aloe, Maguey

Light: Full Sun/Part Shade

Height: 5′ – 7′

Spacing/Spread: 6′ – 11′

Evergreen: Yes.

Color: Rarely blooms .

Interest: Year around evergreen foliage.

Landscape Companions:

Texas Native: Yes, plant is Texas native.

Extra: WARNING, SHARP SPIKES.

Wildlife habitat: Provides food/shelter for bees, butterflies and birds.

Features: A wonderful iconic agave. Texas native that thrives in Full sun/Part shade. Xeriscape plant.

Austin Native Landscaping: “We consider the Century Plant as the king of agaves in Austin. It is very impressive when big, with its bold structure, and beautiful form. On the rare occasion when it finally blooms, it is a complete show stopper; The stalk bolts to the sky and the showy flowers grace the neighborhood. We love designing this Texas native in our xeriscape flowerbeds. It works beautiful as a single large specimen and also when planted amass with other agaves. Tough and particularity indestructible this Native beauty should be in anyone drought tolerant xeriscape landscape. Works particularly well when planted with ornamental grasses nearby. “

 

Plantaholic:

Family: Agavaceae (Pronounced – ah-gav-AY-see-ee)

Genus: Agave (Pronounced – a-GAH-vee)

Species: Americana (Pronounced – a-mer-ih-KAY-na)

Propagation: “Pups”!

History:

 

One of the most distinctive and beautiful plants for the native gardener looking to expand their collection is the American Agave, Century Plant, or Maguey as it is called in Mexico. Famous for its massive vertical flower measuring upwards of 30 feet in height, the bloom can be unpredictable in its timing but when it occurs the sight is unforgettable. These towering flowers called inflorescences form a picturesque part of the landscape and offer a great resource for bees, butterflies, and small birds looking for nectar, as well as humans seeking an impressive addition to the native garden.

The rugged beauty of the flower and ease of care for which the plant is celebrated by landscapers are perhaps only overshadowed by the rich anthropologic history of the agavesin the Americas. American Agave has been utilized as a cornerstone resource by indigenous peoples from its point of origin in the highlands of Mexico to the deserts and unforgiving terrain of Arizona and south Texas for millennia. It’s use is limited only by human’s creativity, and agave species have been known to be employed in a number of ways includingthe production of alcoholic beverages, as a food source, a natural sweetener, medicine, sewing needles, fibers, forage for livestock, and as a defense against pests. Because of this unparalleled importance as a resource,these species have attained an important position in many parts of Mexican culture.Indeed, the Aztec and other central Mexican peoples were known to worship a fertility deity named Mayahuel who was often closely depicted with agave. In historic times, both Anglo-European and Hispanicsettlers throughout the region soon learned to depend on the numerous species ofagave as a reliable source of cattle forage, but perhaps more famously as the source for tequila. With a seemingly endless supply of uses for every part of the plant,to this day it remains utilized by modern peoplesin the same manner as our ancestors.

Botanically, the species Agave americana is classified as a monocotyledon, or a plant which when germinating produces a single small leaf from the seed called a cotyledon (mono = single, cotyledon = seed leaf). Perhaps more importantly in the proliferation of this species, at least for farmers and gardeners, is the growth of suckers or root sprouts. These vegetative growths originate below ground from acellular area found within the root of the plant called the meristem, and if left unchecked for years can form dense thickets of agave. Meristems are found in various locations throughout all species of plants and contain undifferentiated cellswhich have the ability to change into any organ or cell type that is required. The numerous types of meristems (root, shoot, and flower) are responsible for all new growth.The root sprouts form a new individual which is genetically identical to the parent plant and are a reason for the plant’s commercial success in the tequila industry. Instead of requiring further investment for nursery grown plants after the heart of the agave is harvested, the clever farmer will carefully collect the root sprouts and replant them when needed.The flower of the agave is classified as an inflorescence, meaning that multiple flowers or clusters are arranged around a single source. This flowering pattern is common in many species and is a useful way to identify plants. Some may find it of interest that the agave is neither considered a cactus nor an aloe, but rather is a member of the Agavaceae family. This broad family contains several hundred species of unique agaves found natively throughout the Americas, as well as the yucca. One notable member of the family is the Agave tequiliana, named for the potent liquor which is distilled from its heart sap.

Agave is well known for its sweet nectar, called aguamiel, which when allowed to ferment forms the traditional Mexican drink pulque. Aguamiel is extracted from the agave by peeling back the outer leaves and carving into the heart of the plant. The heart is then hollowed out and a space which allows the sap to build up is formed. The sweet nectar then collects and is extracted using a gourd as a siphon, usually daily, for a week or two and then left to ferment. Pulque is a delicious and nutritious low alcohol content beverage which isn’t well known outside of Mexico, but has been used traditionally by the various central Mexican cultures for thousands of years. Many delicious variations on pulque have been derived throughout the years, and today in Mexico City the drink is making a strong comeback among the younger generation who are curious about their cultural roots. The aforementioned Aztec goddess of fertility, Mayahuel, was often depicted holding chalices containing pulque and springing forth from anagave.Additionally, the thorns of the agave were used by central Mexican cultures for ritual bloodletting ceremoniesto appease the deities. The thorns are also utilized by humans as a means of environmental control. By planting large hedges of agave around coffee fields, Colombian farmers are able to prevent small mammals from browsing on the crops, while at the same time slowing down erosion.

Other traditional uses of interest abound. Decoctions of the roots and leaves are said to alleviate a number of ailments including bacterial infections, urinary issues, indigestion, insulin resistance, constipation, parasites, dysentery, flatulency and hormonal disorders.As afood source, the asparagus-like growth tips of the agave inflorescence serve nicely when barbequed in a traditional underground pit. Cattle also have a taste for the large leaves of the plant once the thorns have been removed, and vaqueros and cowboys alike have called upon the plant as an important ally in times of need when other forms of nutrition are unavailable to the herd. Fibers of the plant are to this day utilized throughout the world as a low density, high tenacity and high water absorbency alternative to commercial fiber. These fibers fall into the botanical cellular classification of sclerenchyma, one of the three main cell types found in all plant species. Sclerenchyma cells are dead,with thick cell walls comprised of lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose, allowing them to remain rigid and take on larger physical constrains than the normal cell types.

Overall, the Century Plant is a great addition to the low maintenance, native landscape. Self-propagating and tough as nails, this plant will grace your property with beautiful blooms and require no water once well established. Deer resistant in nature due to the durable sclerenchyma fibers and sharp needles, only in years of extreme drought are deer known to attempt browsing on its leaves. Culturally, this plant is an important part of the identity of the region and would make a great conversation starter while lounging in the garden on a cool spring day, or sitting idly on the front porch enjoying a cold pulque or margarita in the hot summer weather.

Tom Montgomery is a native gardening enthusiast and plant ecologist from Austin. His enthusiasm and appreciation for all things botanical comes from years of experience ranging from landscaping and nursery care to plant physiology research and field ecology vegetation surveys. While not working in the field or lab, he enjoys mushroom hunting in the greenbelt, photography, home brewing and sharpening his Spanish language skills. For questions, comments, or feedback please write to tm1265@txstate.edu.

 

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12 comments… add one

  • Linda Bruggemann

    March 26, 2013, 3:12 pm

    When my husband planted this “monster” Century Agave 5 years ago neither of us knew how huge it would become (wrong info from the nursery)! It was planted about 2 feet away from the front stoop of our house. I have been cutting away at it, poured bleach and drain cleaner on it, and still can’t kill it!! Any suggestions would be most appreciated. (I have read that I should not hack at it with a chainsaw or anything that might cause the “sap” to splash on my skin).

    Reply
    • admin

      May 13, 2013, 8:21 am

      Linda,
      Yes Agaves tend to get quite huge. I have seen truly behemoth specimens before.

      We always remove them the hard way, that is, shovel at their roots until we can yank it out from the ground. If you don’t leave any pups behind the agave should not regrow.

      By the way, Agaves are extremely resilient and even if you hurt it badly during the dig up it will be easily transplanted and get back to health in a different location.

      Thanks and good luck,

      Reply
    • Mona

      February 4, 2015, 9:25 pm

      We moved mature Agaves from back yard to front years ago. The best way to get rid of them is to dig them out. Wear protective cloth, gloves and remove some lover leaves before digging them out. Not a huge problem, really.

      Reply
  • kathy s

    May 10, 2013, 1:29 pm

    I HAVE AN AGAVE IN STAGGES OF BLOOMING , IT IS IN SC. WHAT CAN I EXPECT.

    Reply
    • admin

      May 13, 2013, 8:14 am

      Kathy,
      If you have a century plant. You can expect a huge stalk appearing and extending very tall. Your century plant will likely to die after it blooms. Hopefully there are small agave pups around the mother plant that will take its place.

      Take a bunch of pictures, it is truly a sight to behold.

      Reply
  • Jan

    July 2, 2013, 2:41 pm

    HELP .. I have numerous agave cactus of various sizes. For the first time since living here, ( 9 years ) the bottom leaves of almost all the cacti are turning yellow. Are the dying? If so, is there anything I can do to help them. I live in Wimberley, rocky soil and of course not too much rain lately.

    Reply
  • sneadly

    October 24, 2013, 11:30 am

    We xeriscaped last year and a neighbor stopped by with a bunch of agave pups that she’d dug out of her yard. We planted ALL of them, thinking, well, maybe one or two will take, and maybe they’ll be big in 20 years and we’ll see them bloom in our golden retirement years. HA! They’re taking over! It’s like Little Shop of Horrors. Which is fine with us.

    Reply
  • Scott V.

    February 14, 2014, 11:07 am

    Hello,
    We enjoy your site and where wondering if the Agave Plants(Century Plant) are Deer Resistant? We live in San Antonio area and have a herd of young deer that bed down near our home. (2 bucks in this herd, 4 & 6 point this year).
    Also, FYI- Peace Lilys’ (Spathiphyllum) are not Deer Resistant, we HAD several that were about 5′-6′ wide & 4′-5′ tall, 2 of them are still alive & seem to be coming back? Slowly… All were ate down nearly to the ground!

    Thanks,
    Scott V.

    Reply
  • Jean

    May 19, 2014, 1:37 pm

    We have one in the center of the yard, planted in a bed of white rock. It is 10/14 around and is at least 20 ft. tall and still growing. The stock is 10/12 in around and is another 12 ft. tall. We are waiting for it to bloom and wonder how long the blooms will last. We have lots of pups and have tossed many away before we know how nice they can be. My daughter plans to have a couple dozen to sell out in front of the house while it is blooming. It is in a well maintained yard so the beautiful green grass and white rocks really shows off the plant. Its in Jacksonville, Fla. but afraid to give out the address afraid some crazy person will damage the plant

    Reply
  • mark

    August 22, 2014, 10:52 am

    I bought one in a one gallon size container and planted in a large clay pot. It did well, tripling in size during the summer, but in the winter was badly damaged by the frost. The dead leaves are very hard to remove because they are tough and hard to access due to the thorns. I hope new growth will cover the damage.

    Reply
    • Reed

      August 22, 2014, 10:56 am

      Mark Hello,
      Yes Agaves are frost sensitive and will get damaged on especially harsh winters, especially so when they are planted in pots.
      But no worry, they are very vigorous plants and will regrow back to health soon enough.

      Reply
  • Roslyn Mims

    March 25, 2015, 10:13 am

    Help. I have a Century Plant that is getting too large for where it is planted. A friend planted it near my house when it was small. My mother had to have one removed when it displaced her chain link fence? It has about eight pups. I would like to sell them. Is there a site where I can sell them?

    Reply

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