These plants have large clusters of thick, fleshy leaves borne
close to the ground and surrounding a central stalk. The plants
flower only once, then die. They produce a massive flower stalk.
Agave are commonly known as the "century plant." There
are about 200 species of agave in the world. They are closely
related to Aloe, and have a similar appearance.
Habitat and Distribution
Agaves prefer dry, open areas. Most agaves are found in Mexico,
but they are also found throughout Central America, the Caribbean,
and parts of the western deserts of the United States.
Its flowers, flower buds, and tender bases of new leaves are
all edible. Boil or roast them before eating. The flower stalks
can be roasted and become sweet and chewy. The juice the contain
is referred to as "aguamiel," which translates as "honey
The juice of some species causes dermatitis in some individuals.
You can cut the huge flower stalk and collect the juice for
drinking. Some species have very fibrous leaves. If you pound
the leaves you can remove the fibers for weaving and making ropes.
Most species have thick, sharp needles at the tips of the leaves.
These have been used for sewing. The sap of some species contains
a chemical that makes it suitable for use as a soap.
These are also called century plants, and may be protected
in some areas. Don't kill the plant to get the juice for drinking,
except in the direst emergency (It is a difficult, time-consuming
If you cut half-way though one of the leaves, near the tip,
you can usually bend it and peel the fibers off with the point
attached. A needle with thread attached! You can use this for
quick repairs on clothing or backpacks. Agaves are very useful
for their fiber, and you don't need to kill them to get it. Just
use a leaf or two.