Century Plant, Maguey
An imposing blue-grey architectural arid plant, Agave americana forms a fountain-like rosette of thick succulent leaves with toothed margins.
Agaves are incredibly popular choices of arid plants, often praised for their impressive and flowing, sculptural form. Americana in particular is often picked due to its hardy nature, withstanding temperatures down to -12 °C, meaning it can cope is most climates found in the UK.
Agave americana is native to Southern USA to Mexico, but due to its hardiness has become naturalised in parts of Africa, India and southern Europe.
Appropriately, the species name Agave come from the Greek ‘agaue’, meaning noble or illustrious, whilst the common name ‘Century Plant’ makes reference to how rarely it flowers.
In the wild, the main pollinators of the flowers are bats. Approximately 30 species of bats pollinate the flowers whilst feeding on the nectar inside. The bats have evolved alongside the agave and as such have particularly long tongues to reach the nectar at the base of the flower.
The Many Uses of Agave
Outside of its ornamental cultivation, the whole of the Agave americana plant has been harvested around the world, for many different uses.
In Central America it has long been used as a treatment for many ailments, because of its wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties. The juice from the plant has long been used as an antiseptic, and to treat burns, bruises, minor cuts, injuries and skin irritation caused by insect bites.
Traditionally, extracts from the stem and root have been used to make soap, whilst its sharp thorns have been used as both needles and nails. Fibres from the leaves and roots have also been used in the production of ropes, twines and mats.
Agave americana has also been used as a food source. The sweet, tender plant core is cooked as a vegetable, and in Mexico the sap is fermented to make the alcoholic drinks ‘Pulque’ and ‘Mescal’.
You may have even seen in shops in the UK as, if the stem is cut before flowering, it contains ‘aguamiel’, or Agave nectar, which is becoming an increasingly popular honey replacement for vegans.
Care & Size Guidance
Agave americana can actually flower, however it’s monocarpic which means that it flowers only once and then dies. Luckily, it can only flower in maturity and can take many years to bloom, with a typical lifespan on 10-30 years.
After it dies it produces offsets around the base, which form a colony of new plants.