Agave is the common name and genus name of succulent plants in the flowering plant family Agavaceae.
The name “agave” comes from the Greek word agavos, meaning noble or illustrious.
There are about 250 species of agave.
Most occur in semiarid habitats, and some species have been introduced into similar climates elsewhere and have naturalized.
Plants in this genus are perennial; they require several to many years to mature and flower.
Agaves are characterized by a rosette of succulent or leathery leaves that range in size from a few centimeters to more than 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length, depending on the species.
The leaves range in color from pale green to blue-grey and can be variegated or striped.
Most bear spines along the edges and the tip of the leaf, for which they are occasionally confused with unrelated cacti.
The yellow, pale green, or red flowers are borne in tall branching or unbranching inflorescences that can reach more than 9 meters (30 feet) in height in some species.
Agave plants flower only once, produce seeds and then die. Before flowering they usually live for 10 to 30 years. Because they live for a long time they are sometimes called “century plants.”
The genus contains a number of economically important species, especially those required for the production of mescal liquors, including the blue agave (Agave tequilana) used for tequila.
Blue agave grows primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 kilometers (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco.
One of the most familiar species is Agave americana, a native of tropical America. Common names include century plant, maguey (in Mexico), or American aloe (not related to the genus Aloe).
There is archeological evidence that humans have used agaves for at least 9,000 years, baking the leaves in pits for food and using the fibers and stalks to make everything from rope to clothing to weapons.
Agave were an important food for many indigenous people in the southwestern United States, such as the Navajo and the Hokoham.
Many species have strong fibrous tissue in their leaves, which makes them useful for ropes, brushes, sandals, nets, sleeping mats, and other similar items.
Agave nectar (also called agave syrup), a sweetener derived from the sap, is used as an alternative to sugar in cooking, and can be added to breakfast cereals as a binding agent.
Agave species are popular ornamental plants in hot, dry climates, as they require very little supplemental water to survive.