Agave plants are among the most popular succulents grown as landscape and garden plants worldwide (especially in warmer regions). Agaves (a.k.a. Century plants or Maguey) seem to get even more popular every passing year.
This article will explore some of the most common types of agave plants and their distinctive characteristics and uses.
- About Agave
- What is Agave Used for?
- How to Identify an Agave?
- Agave Photo Gallery
- How to Care for Agave Plants
- Is Agave Plant Toxic?
- Popular Types of Agave Plants for the Landscape and House
- Agave Americana (American Century Plant)
- Agave Parryi Var. Truncata (Artichoke Agave)
- Agave Americana’ Mediopicta Alba’ (White-Striped Century Plant)
- Agave Americana ‘Variegata’ (Variegated American Century Plant)
- Agave Colorata (Mescal Ceniza)
- Agave Filfera (Thread Agave)
- Agave Parrasana (Cabbage Head Agave)
- Agave parryi (Artichoke Agave, Parry’s Century Plant)
- Agave Stricta (Hedgehog Agave)
- Agave attenuata (Foxtail Agave)
- Agave Victoriae-Reginae (Queen Victoria Agave)
- Agave’ Blue Flame’ (Blue Flame Agave)
- Agave bracteosa (Green Spider Agave)
- Agave potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’ (Butterfly Agave)
- Agave shawii (Shaw’s Agave)
- What is the Difference Between Agaves and Cacti?
- Yucca vs. Agave
Agave is a genus of some 250 species of the family Asparagaceae (formerly Agavaceae). These plants are succulents native to arid and semiarid regions of the Americas, particularly Mexico and the Caribbean.
Agaves are drought-tolerant and can thrive in a variety of climates and soil types. This adaptability has made Agave popular for both indoor and outdoor use in cultivation.
Interest in agave plants has increased recently due to the desire to reduce water consumption in drought-stricken areas.
Most types of agave plants require little to no irrigation and are therefore a good choice for people who want to reduce their water usage.
Furthermore, many varieties of agaves can withstand heat, winds, drought, and even cold weather.
Agaves can be used in all kinds of landscaping, from tropical-style gardens to desert landscapes. Agave plants can be used to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as well.
What is Agave Used for?
The native peoples of the Americas have used most species of Agave for food, fiber, or fencing. However, the most well-known use of Agave is for tequila, a beverage produced from the plant’s sap.
The production of pulque has a long, rich history in Mexico. Pulque is a fermented beverage initially made from the sap of the agave plant. It has been consumed in Mexico for centuries and has played a significant role in many aspects of Mexican culture.
Prior to flowering, the sap of an agave plant accumulates high concentrations of sugars. Natives of Central America and Mexico learned to identify this growth stage in several Agave species and subsequently drain this sweet sap, called aguamiel.
While sometimes used as a beverage, aguamiel is more often processed into syruplike agave nectar, which is currently becoming popular as a natural sweetener. Aguamiel also is fermented into a mildly alcoholic drink called pulque.
Tequila is a spirit distilled from the heart (pina) of the Blue Agave plant, Agave Tequilana. While the mescal production process may vary slightly by region, the basic process begins with harvesting the pre-flowering agave plant.
The leaves are removed, and the resulting stem and leaf bases are cooked and chopped. The resulting juice is fermented and distilled into an alcoholic product that can be used to make mescal and tequila.
By Mexican law, only mescal produced in the state of Jalisco can be labeled as tequila; if it is fermented from any other species of Agave, it must be labeled mescal.
Other Agave Plants Uses
While it is best known for its use in alcoholic beverages, agaves were also used for:
- The fibers from these plants were used in the production of cloth, rope, and baskets
- Flower buds, some fruit pods, and flower stems were eaten fresh or cooked
- The stem bases of some Agave spp. were also eaten in a raw or cooked form.
- The roots of several species contain a mucilaginous substance used as soap.
- Trunks of various agaves have been used for fencing and as cattle feed.
Did you know that Aztecs worshipped the agave plant?
Aztecs revered the maguey (agave) plant for many reasons, including its pulque, which they extracted from it, and the many industrial products derived from the leaves and spines.
The name of the goddess was Mayahuel.
How to Identify an Agave?
There are many different types of agave plants, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Some agave plants are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, while others can grow to be over 20 feet tall! So, how can you tell if a plant is an agave?
Here are a few key characteristics to look for:
- Check the leaves: The leaves of the agave plants can be identified by their spines and distinct colors. Most agave plants have spines along the edges and at the tip of their leaves, which can sometimes lead to confusion with other types of cacti. Additionally, the leaves typically range in color from pale green to blue-grey, and they can also be variegated or striped with white, cream, or yellow colors.
- Look for spines: Some agave plants have sharp spikes on their leaves to dissuade predators from eating them or using them as a source of water. Unfortunately, these spines are very sharp and can hurt if you touch them!
- Consider the shape and size of an agave plant: One way to identify an agave is by its characteristic rosette of succulent or leathery leaves. The size of the leaves can vary depending on the species, but they usually range from a few centimeters to more than 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length.
- Look for flower stalks: Agave plants produce flowers that bloom in large clusters on tall flower stalks called inflorescences. They can reach up to 30 feet in height. The flowers are usually yellow, although some species produce white or greenish-yellow blooms. Most agave plants flower only once before they die, so look for a flower stalk if you want to see the plant in bloom.
- Note the location: Agave plants are native to tropical and desert regions of the Americas.
- Check the base of the plant for pups: Agave plants spread by sending out “pups” at the base of their rosettes. These pups are genetically identical to the parent plant and can be separated from it if necessary.
Agave Photo Gallery
Below you will find the photos of the most common and beautiful types of agave plants.
How to Care for Agave Plants
Agave plants are easy to grow, but they require special care to thrive. Here is a rundown on how you can take good care of these succulent plants and avoid common mistakes that waste your time and energy.
- Light: Agaves need full sun, so choose a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
- Soil: Use sandy or rocky, well-draining soil. A drainage hole is also necessary for potting.
- Water: Mature agave plants can usually stand periods of drought without suffering any permanent damage. Only water the plant when the soil is completely dry. Don’t overwater because this can cause root rot and other diseases. In addition, agave plants are susceptible to salt and fluoride, so you should use only distilled or rainwater.
- Fertilizer: Agave plants are adapted to growing in poor soil and don’t need fertilizer.
- Temperature: Agave plants do well in dry, sunny areas as long as they’re protected from extreme cold and wind. They can be grown indoors in a large container or planted outdoors when the weather warms up. Some agave varieties are more tolerant to cold.
- Propagation: Many agave plants can be propagated by seeds, pups, or offsets. Many varieties of Agave are monocarpic, which means that they die after flowering and will produce offsets or pups that can be removed and potted.
- Pests and Deceases: Agave plants are not very susceptible to pests or diseases. However, the agave snout weevil can be a problem, especially for larger species such as agave Americana.
Is Agave Plant Toxic?
While agave plants are not typically considered poisonous, there have been some reports of toxicity associated with these plants.
Research published in the Journal of the American Association of Dermatologists reported that despite containing known irritants, such as calcium oxalate crystals, acrid oils, saponins, and other compounds, Agave-induced irritant dermatitis appears to be a rare phenomenon.
Popular Types of Agave Plants for the Landscape and House
There are many different types and varieties of agave plants to choose from, but some are more popular than others in particular areas. Here are a few common agave plants you might see in your landscape:
Agave Americana (American Century Plant)
Agave Americana can grow up to 6 feet tall and wide, with blue-green leaves and a black terminal spike on each leaf. However, it is best kept in a sturdy pot rather than planted in a residential garden, as it may offset and become too large.
The plant can be used in the landscape as a strong accent, focal point, or barrier plant. It does well in extensive desert gardens and xeric landscape design themes.
MATURE SIZE: 6 feet tall and wide
HARDINESS: from below freezing to above 100 degrees
Agave Parryi Var. Truncata (Artichoke Agave)
Agave parryi var. truncata forms tight rosettes of broad, silvery-blue leaves with pronounced reddish teeth and spines. It is an evergreen perennial that is drought tolerant and grows in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 12.
The plant can tolerate colder temperatures if kept dry. It has a slow growth rate and reaches an average height of 1 to 2 feet when it matures.
It is a good plant for rock gardens, xeriscaping, or as a specimen in your landscape. It looks stunning when planted near other succulents.
MATURE SIZE: 2 to 3 feet in diameter
HARDINESS: varies to 10 degrees F or less
Agave Americana’ Mediopicta Alba’ (White-Striped Century Plant)
‘Mediopicta Alba’ is one of the smaller varieties of well-known Agave Americana species, only reaching about three feet in height and width. An absolute stunner in the landscape, this Agave is perfect for adding color and interest to any garden.
Common Name: White-Striped Century Plant
Height and Spread: 3 ft x 3 ft
USDA Hardiness: 8a to 11b: from 10 °F (−12.2 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C)
Agave Americana ‘Variegata’ (Variegated American Century Plant)
Agave Americana Variegata (Variegated American Century Plant) is a beautiful houseplant that produces a spectacular display of variegated foliage. It’s easy to care for and grows quickly, making it an excellent choice for beginners looking to add some color to their homes.
The plant forms a rosette of thick, fleshy dark green leaves with yellow stripes around the edges. The leaves are edged with sharp teeth and have a sharp point at the tip. These colors are more pronounced when the plant is grown in full sun.
It is heat and drought-tolerant and does not require much watering once established. However, it can be susceptible to cold damage, so it is best suited for growing in warm climates.
Agave Americana’ Variegata’ makes an excellent accent plant in Xeriscape gardens or rockeries. It is also well-suited for growing in containers.
Common Name: Variegated American Century Plant
Height and Spread: 5 ft x 5 ft
USDA Hardiness: 8a to 11b
Agave Colorata (Mescal Ceniza)
Agave Colorata, also known as Mescal Ceniza, is a species of Agave native to Mexico. It is a perennial plant that typically grows to a height of 3-4 feet. The leaves are blue-green and have sharp spines along the margins.
Agave Colorata is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant and is often used as a landscape accent in rock gardens, coastal gardens, or as a border plant. It is also used in the production of mezcal, tequila, and other alcoholic beverages.
Common Name: Mescal Ceniza, Huachuca Agave, Coastal Agave
Height and Spread: 4 ft x 4 ft
USDA Hardiness: 8a to 11b
Agave Filfera (Thread Agave)
Agave Filfera, also known as Thread Agave, is a species of Agave native to Mexico. The plant grows to an average height of 1-2 feet, with sharp, needle-like leaves that are arranged in a spiral pattern. The leaves are pale green, with white stripes running along the length of the leaf.
Thread Agave is best suited for growth in sandy or loamy soils and requires full sun. The plant is drought-tolerant and does not require much water once established. Agave Filfera is an interesting addition to any landscape and makes an excellent container plant.
Common Name: Thread Agave, Thread Leaf Agave, Century Plant, Maguey
Height and Spread: 2 ft x 2 ft
USDA Hardiness: 9a to 11b
Agave Parrasana (Cabbage Head Agave)
Agave Parrasana, also known as the Cabbage Head Agave, is a widely cultivated species of Agave. The plant gets its name from its large, round leaves, which resemble the head of cabbage.
Agave Parrasana is a slow-growing plant that can reach up to two feet in height and two feet in width. The plant typically blooms once in its lifetime, producing a tall stalk topped with yellow flowers. However, indoor agaves rarely bloom.
Agave Parrasana is a popular choice for landscaping due to its low maintenance requirements and drought tolerance. The plant is also resistant to pests and diseases, making it a low-maintenance option for gardens and landscapes.
Common Name: Cabbage Head Agave, Cabbage Head Century Plant
Height and Spread: 2 ft x 2 ft
USDA Hardiness: 7 to 11
Agave parryi (Artichoke Agave, Parry’s Century Plant)
Agave parryi is a rosette-forming succulent that can grow up to 2 meters with blue-green leaves and sharp spines along their edges. The plant is drought-tolerant and can be grown in a wide range of soils. However, it prefers well-drained soil and full sun.
Artichoke Agave grows best in full sun, but it can also be kept indoors in a bright spot with bright light. It prefers sandy and well-drained soil, so make sure to use a potting mix made specifically for cacti and succulents. You’ll want to water your plant sparingly; if you notice any signs of rot or decay on leaves or stems, then it’s time to cut back on watering because too much moisture will cause damage!
Common Name: Artichoke Agave, Parry’s Century Plant
Height and Spread: 1-2 ft x 2-3 ft
USDA Hardiness: 7 to 12
Agave Stricta (Hedgehog Agave)
Agave stricta, also known as hedgehog agave, is a plant that’s perfect for those who want to add some desert-like vibes to their home. This perennial succulent is native to Mexico but has been cultivated worldwide for its striking appearance. It has thick, fleshy leaves arranged in an unusual pattern that resembles a hedgehog’s spines.
The plant grows slowly and requires little maintenance once established. As a result, it makes an excellent houseplant and can thrive indoors year-round with proper care.
They like full sun, and they don’t need much watering—just a little bit now and then will do the trick! They’re also easy to propagate, so if you have a friend with an agave stricta, ask them if they’d be willing to share some cuttings with you!
Common Name: Hedgehog, Blue hedgehog, Hedgehog Agave, Hedgehog century plant
Height and Spread: 16 in x 16 in
USDA Hardiness: 9a to 11b
Agave attenuata (Foxtail Agave)
Agave attenuata, also known as Foxtail Agave, is a succulent plant that originates from Mexico and can be grown in containers or as a houseplant.
Foxtail agaves are relatively easy to care for, but they do require some maintenance. They prefer bright light and a dry environment with 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. They can be kept outdoors during the summer months but should be brought inside before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C).
Foxtail agave is drought-tolerant and grows well in hot climates without much water or fertilizer. It needs full sun but will tolerate some shade during the hottest part of the day—but not too much shade!
Common Names: Dragon Tree Agave, Elephant’s Trunk, Fox Tail, Fox Tail Agave, Gooseneck Succulent, Lion’s Tail, Soft-leaved Agave, Spineless Century Plant, Swan’s Neck
Height and Spread: 3 ft x 5 ft
USDA Hardiness: 10 to 12
Agave Victoriae-Reginae (Queen Victoria Agave)
The Queen Victoria Agave is a magnificent plant that can be enjoyed as a houseplant or in containers. It’s known for its large, pointed leaves and its striking shape. The leaves are dark bluish-green with bright white stripes and sharp teeth along their edges.
It requires full sun and well-drained soil but will tolerate some shade. It prefers temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit year-round but can survive cooler temperatures if necessary (down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit).
Common Name: Queen Victoria Agave, Royal Agave
Height and Spread: 18 in x 18 in
USDA Hardiness: 7 to 11
Check out our guide on how to care and grow Queen Victoria Agave
Agave’ Blue Flame’ (Blue Flame Agave)
Agave’ Blue Flame’ is a hybrid between hardy A. shawii and frost-sensitive A. attenuata. It has since become a popular ornamental plant due to its attractive blue-green leaves and grows best in full sun to part shade.
The Blue Flame agave is a striking plant with long, gracefully tapered blue-green leaves. It typically grows 3-5 feet tall and as wide. The leaf margins have delicate teeth, and a stiff terminal spine grows on the tips of the leaves.
MATURE SIZE 4 feet in diameter
HARDINESS 25 degrees F
Agave bracteosa (Green Spider Agave)
The Green Spider Agave, also known as the Squid Agave, has smooth and slender leaves with a flat, tapered appearance. The leaves are pale green and resemble ribbons. The center of the rosette will have upright new leaves that form a star shape.
Unlike many other agaves, this species does not die after flowering. Instead, it continues to produce offsets that can be replanted.
Green Spider Agave is suitable for mass plantings and containers in residential and commercial landscapes.
MATURE SIZE 18 inches in diameter
HARDINESS 10 degrees F
Agave potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’ (Butterfly Agave)
Agave potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’ is an excellent plant for rock gardens or use in decorative containers. It is drought tolerant and can tolerate part shade. It grows easily in sandy or gravelly, well-drained soils in full sun.
This silver-blue Agave has many densely packed leaves, with a symmetrical “rose-like” appearance and beautiful texture.
If you are growing this variety, leave plenty of room for the pups.
MATURE SIZE 18 inches in diameter
HARDINESS 30 degrees F
Agave shawii (Shaw’s Agave)
The Shaw’s Agave is a popular choice for landscaping in the southwestern United States. It is a rosette-forming plant characterized by glossy, green leaves with toothed margins. This variety can reach 2 to 3 feet and spread up to 6 feet wide over time.
When it matures, typically after 20 years, it sends up a large inflorescence (flower stalk) that can reach 6 to 14 feet in height.
This Agave is perfect for massing at the top of a slope or eye level. Shaw’s Agave has an upright growth habit and will attract many nectar-feeding birds and bees when it flowers.
MATURE SIZE 2½ feet in diameter
HARDINESS 25 degrees F
What is the Difference Between Agaves and Cacti?
Agave plants are commonly mistaken for cacti, but they are actually succulents. Both plants are adapted to arid conditions and have water-storing leaves.
Most cacti are stem succulents, meaning they have thickened stems that store water. They typically lack leaves altogether, or if they do have leaves, they are small and inconspicuous. The spines on a cactus are modified leaves that help protect the plant from predators and reduce water loss.
In contrast, agave plants are leaf succulents, meaning they have thickened, fleshy leaves that store water.
So, while both plants are succulents, agaves are leaf succulents, and cacti are stem succulents.
Yucca vs. Agave
In desert landscapes, you can often find agaves and yuccas growing side by side.
There is a distinctive difference in yucca leaves. They have narrower, thinner, and less tapering leaves with no spine along the edges and sometimes bear thin curly white hair.
Yuccas also have large, upright, bell-shaped flowers when they are in bloom. However, unlike an agave with tall flower stems, a yucca’s flowers are held within or just above the foliage.
Most Popular Agave Varieties: A Guide to Identification (Video)
What agave plant makes tequila?
Tequila is made only from a specific cultivar of Agave Tequilana called ‘Weber Azul.’ This cultivar is more prominent and displays a bluish-gray coloration than the smaller, standard tequila agave plant, which displays a green color.
Why is Agave called a Century Plant?
The agave plant gets its common name “Century Plant” from the mistaken belief that it only blooms once every 100 years. A more accurate estimate of its blooming cycle is actually between 10 and 30 years. Nevertheless, the plant’s long-lived flowering habit has made it a popular symbol of longevity and endurance.
- Garcia-Arce, Z.P., Castro-Muñoz, R. Exploring the potentialities of the Mexican fermented beverage: Pulque. J. Ethn. Food 8, 35 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-021-00111-6
- J. Ryan Stewart. Agave as a model CAM crop system for a warming and drying world https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2015.00684/full
- Gary W. Knox. AGAVE AND YUCCA: TOUGH PLANTS FOR TOUGH TIMES. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP419
- Source: “San Diego Balboa Park – Botanical Building Lily Pond, Agave attenuata x shawii ‘Blue Flame’” by cultivar413 – Under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)
- User:Nauticashades, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
- Richtr Jan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- Salicyna, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). Co-attribution must be given to the Chanticleer Garden., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons