Agave americana, common names century plant, maguey or American aloe, is a species of flowering plant in the family Agavaceae, originally from Mexico but cultivated worldwide as an ornamental plant. It has since naturalized in many regions including Europe, South Africa, India, and Australia.
Despite the common name "American aloe", it is not closely related to plants in the genus Aloe.
The misnamed century plant typically lives only 10 to 30 years. A monocarpic succulent, it has a spreading rosette (about 4 m (13 ft) wide) of gray-green leaves up to 2 m (6.6 ft) long, each with a spiny margin and a heavy spike at the tip that can pierce to the bone.
When it flowers, the spike with a cyme of big yellow flowers may reach up to 8 m (26 ft) in height. Its common name likely derives from its semelparous nature of flowering only once at the end of its long life. The plant dies after flowering, but produces suckers or adventitious shoots from the base, which continue its growth.
Taxonomy and naming
Agave americana is cultivated as an ornamental plant for the large dramatic form of mature plants - for modernist, drought tolerant, and desert style cactus gardens - among many planted settings. The plants can be evocative of 18th-19th-century Spanish colonial and Mexican provincial eras in the Southwestern United States, California, and xeric Mexico.
Subspecies and Cultivars
Two subspecies and two varieties of Agave americana are recognized by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families:
- Agave americana subsp. americana
- Agave americana subsp. protamericana Gentry
- Agave americana var. expansa (Jacobi) Gentry
- Agave americana var. oaxacensis Gentry
- 'Marginata' with yellow stripes along the margins of each leaf
- 'Mediopicta' agm with a broad cream central stripe
- 'Mediopicta Alba' agm with a central white band
- 'Mediopicta Aurea' with a central yellow band
- 'Striata' with multiple yellow to white stripes along the leaves
- 'Variegata' agm with white edges on the leaves.
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If the flower stem is cut without flowering, a sweet liquid called aguamiel ("honey water") gathers in the heart of the plant. This may be fermented to produce the drink called pulque. The leaves also yield fibers, known as pita, which are suitable for making rope, matting, coarse cloth and are used for embroidery of leather in a technique known as piteado. Both pulque and maguey fibre were important to the economy of pre-Columbian Mexico.
In the region of Tequila, agaves are called mezcales. The high-alcohol product of agave distillation is called mezcal; Agave americana is one of several agaves used for distillation. A mezcal called tequila, is produced from Agave tequilana, commonly called "blue agave". Low-priced mezcal may contain the mezcal worm, which pulque and tequila do not. Mezcal and tequila, although also produced from agave plants, are different from pulque in their technique for extracting the sugars from the heart of the plant, and in that they are distilled spirits. In mezcal and tequila production, the sugars are extracted from the piñas (or hearts) by heating them in ovens, rather than by collecting aguamiel from the plant's cut stalk. Thus if one were to distill pulque, it would not be a form of mezcal, but rather a different drink.
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- "RHS Plant Selector - Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba'". Retrieved 2013-06-11.
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- "RHS Plant Selector - Agave americana". Retrieved 2013-06-11.
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