Guide to Types of Agaves

There are many types of agaves found in the United States and Mexico. Many people mistakenly believe that agaves are members of the cactus family, but they are not. The agave is a succulent plant that is a member of the lily family, and closely related to the Amaryllis.

Agave Growth and Flowers
As agaves grow, they form very short-stemmed rosettes. Even though the rosettes themselves are short stemmed, the agave plant can grow up to three feet high. Most agaves are monocarpic; they flower once in a lifetime, although there are some species of agave that flower more than once in a lifetime.

Smaller species of agave may set flowers after only three or four years, while larger species may take up to 50 years to flower.

Agaves tolerate a large variety of climates and are not limited to growing in the desert. In fact, agaves thrive in forests, hillsides, arid plains, deserts and seacoasts. They can survive temperatures ranging from 15 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Agave Varieties
Some of the most common species of the Agave plant are the Agave Americana. The common name of the Agave Americana is the Century Plant, an ornamental plant most often found in the deserts of the American Southwest. The Century plant is also grown as a potted plant in colder climates. In colder climates, it can be outdoors during warmer months but must overwinter inside.

In nature, the Century Plant is a food and water source for desert dwellers. The leaves provide a water source for desert mammals such as big horn sheep and the flowers produce nectar for desert birds. Popular myth holds that this plant takes 100 years to flower. In reality, a Century Plant will flower in around 30 years.

When the plant does begin to flower, the stalk is extremely fast growing. It can add 2.5 inches a day until it reaches a maximum height of 15 feet. The flower blooms for several weeks and then dies. Before the flower dies, it sends out 65,000 seeds.

Another popular species is the Agave Angustifolia, which is native to Mexico. Primarily grown for use in the production of mezcal liquor, it can also be found in gardens as an ornamental plant.

One of the most recognizable names in Agaves is the Agave Azul, or Blue Agave. The Blue Agave is used to make tequila and is farmed in Mexico specifically for commercial use. They can grow quite large and are generally not grown as an ornamentals or houseplants.

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