576 Agave americanaCommon Names: agave, century plant, maguey, American aloe Family: Agavaceae (agave Family)
Century plant has no stem. Its thick and massive gray-green leaves originate from a basal rosette. The leaves get up to 6' long and 10" wide, and have sharp spines on the margins and tips. The margin spines are recurved like fishhooks and the tip spines can be more than an inch long. The flower stalk is branched, 20-40' tall, and bears large (3-4") yellow-green flowers. Popular cultivars are 'Marginata' with yellow margins on the leaves, 'Mediopicta' with a broad yellow band down the center of each leaf, and 'Striata' with stripes.
Century plant occurs naturally in arid areas of Mexico. It also has escaped cultivation and become established in the Mediterranean region of Africa and Europe.
CultureGrow century plant in very well-drained, slightly acidic, sandy or gravely soil. Light: Full sun. Moisture: This is a desert plant. Once established, it is very drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Propagation: By offsets and by seed.
Century plants are often used for fencing in Mexico and Central America. A dense hedge of these spiny succulents is impermeable to cattle and people. As an ornamental, century plant usually is grown in rock gardens, in cactus and succulent gardens, in Mediterranean-style landscapes, in borders, or as a specimen. It tends to dominate the landscape wherever it is grown. Century plant also is grown in containers where it stays much smaller than its outdoor brethren. Keep it in a cool, frost-free area in winter and put it out on the balcony or patio in summer. Water century plant only in the summer.
Century plant doesn't really take a century to bloom, but it does take 10 years or so in warm regions and as much as 60 years in colder climates. It dies after blooming (a condition called monocarpic), but produces offsets or "pups" throughout its life and these remain to continue the lineage.
The sap of century plant is used as a diuretic and a laxative. The juice of the leaves is applied to bruises and taken internally for indigestion, flatulence, constipation, jaundice and dysentery. Steroid hormone precursors are obtained from the leaves.
The flower stalk and heart of century plant are sweet and can be roasted and eaten. The seeds are ground into flour to make bread and to use as a thickener for soups. Pulque is a beer-like drink made from the fermented sap of century plant or (more commonly) the closely-related Agave salmiana. Tequila is distilled from the sap of blue agave (A. tequilana) and mescal is made by distilling fire-roasted agave. Mescal, with its distinctive smoky aroma, is often sold with a worm (actually the caterpillar of the agave moth) in the bottle. A company in California is marketing agave nectar, a sweetener made from the fruit of blue agave.
Sisal and henequen are fibrous twines made from the leaves of Agave sisalana and A. fourcroydes.
Plan ahead. Century plant can get very large, and it is armed with needle-sharp spines. Don't plant it near paths or walkways.
Steve Christman 10/20/99; updated 11/26/99