- Scientific name: Agave americana
- Family: Asparagaceae (asparagus)
Spiny succulent up to 3.5m tall. Succulent lanceolate leaves in rosettes with short stems, up to 200 x 25cm, light greenish-grey. Leaves armed with spiny teeth up to 1cm long, terminal spines up to 5cm long. Flowering structure (inflorescence) many-branched stalk, up to 9m tall; flowers yellow, up to 10cm long, in clusters on inflorescence branches. Fruits up to 5cm long, oblong with short beaks at tip, full of lustrous black seeds.
This plant is known to some as the century plant, because it is thought to flower only once every 100 years; however, this is misleading as it usually flowers after 20-30 years of storing enormous food reserves in its leaves and then dies.
Where it grows
Originally from Mexico, the agave now grows across the world in similar growth conditions: a sunny and dry climate, and well-drained soil.
In Mexico drinks are made by cutting off the flower head and collecting the rising sap - as much as 1000 litres per plant! The sap is then fermented into a drink called pulque, and can then be distilled to make the spirit mescal (a related plant, the blue agave, is used to produce tequila).
Juice from the core of the plant is used to produce agave nectar - a sweetener often used in food and drinks as a substitute for sugar or honey.
Fibres can be extracted from the leaves of this plant and used for rope, matting and coarse cloth.
This agave's ability to generate suckers and hardy stems underground (rhizomes) means it is a threat to vulnerable native plant species, and is classed as an invasive in many dryland areas around the world. It can significantly change the landscape because of its shape and size.
The agave is pollinated by insects, nectar-loving bats and hummingbirds.
- Lanceolate: narrowly ovate and tapering to a point.
- Succulent: plant or plant part consisting of juicy flesh.