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Agave

From Academic Kids

For the queen of Greek mythology, see Agave (mythology).
Agave
Agave americana aureo-marginata
Century plant
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Magnoliophyta
Class:Liliopsida
Order:Asparagales
Family:Agavaceae
Genus:Agave
Species

Agave americana
Agave fourcroydes
Agave sisalana
many others, see text

Agaves are succulent plants of a large botanical genus of the same name, belonging to the family Agavaceae. Chiefly Mexican, they occur also in the southern and western United States and in central and tropical South America. The plants have a large rosette of thick fleshy leaves generally ending in a sharp point and with a spiny margin; the stout stem is usually short, the leaves apparently springing from the root.

They grow slowly and flower but once after a number of years, when a tall stem or "mast" grows from the centre of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of shortly tubular flowers. After development of fruit the plant dies down, but suckers are frequently produced from the base of the stem which become new plants.

Missing image
Agaveattenuata1web.jpg
Swan's Neck Agave (Agave attenuata)

The most familiar species is Agave americana, a native of tropical America, the so-called Century Plant or American aloe (the maguey of Mexico). The number of years before flowering occurs depends on the vigour of the individual, the richness of the soil and the climate; during these years the plant is storing in its fleshy leaves the nourishment required for the effort of flowering. During the development of the inflorescence there is a rush of sap to the base of the young flowerstalk. In the case of A. americana and other species this is used by the Mexicans to make their national beverage, pulque; the flower shoot is cut out and the sap collected and subsequently fermented. By distillation a spirit called mezcal is prepared. The leaves of several species yield fibre, as for instance, Agave rigida var. sisalana, sisal hemp, Agave decipiens, False Sisal Hemp; Agave americana is the source of pita fibre, and is used as a fibre plant in Mexico, the West Indies and southern Europe. The flowering stem of the last named, dried and cut in slices, forms natural razor strops, and the expressed juice of the leaves will lather in water like soap. The Native Americans of Mexico used the agave both to make pens, nails and needles as well as string to sow and make weavings. In India the plant is extensively used for hedges along railroads.

Agave in bloom in a garden (Roquevaire, Bouches-du-Rhne, France, September 1978)
Enlarge
Agave in bloom in a garden (Roquevaire, Bouches-du-Rhne, France, September 1978)

Agave americana, century plant, was introduced into Europe about the middle of the 16th century and is now widely cultivated for its handsome appearance; in the variegated forms the leaf has a white or yellow marginal or central stripe from base to apex. As the leaves unfold from the centre of the rosette the impression of the marginal spines is very conspicuous on the still erect younger leaves. The tequ plants are usually grown in tubs and put out in the summer months, but in the winter require to be protected from frost. They mature very slowly and die after flowering, but are easily propagated by the offsets from the base of the stem.

Agave nectar has been used as an alternative to sugar in cooking.

Contents

Taxonomy

At one point agaves and Amaryllis were placed among the Liliaceae, but have now definitely been placed in a separate order, the Asparagales; however Agave and related forms have by most recent sources, notably Judd et al, been placed in a family Agavaceae separate from the Amaryllidaceae.

Agaves have long presented special difficulties for taxonomy; variations within a species may be considerable, and a number of named species are of unknown origin, and may just be variants of original wild species.

Spanish and Portuguese explorers probably brought agaves back with them, but agaves really became popular in Europe during the 19th century, with many types being brought by collectors. Some of have been continuously propagated by offset since then, and do not consistently resemble any species known in nature, although this may simply be due to the unnatural growing conditions in Europe.

Species

Missing image
Agave_lechuguilla0.jpg
Agave lechuguilla
  • Agave ajoensis = Agave schottii var. schottii Agave deserti var. simplex
  • Agave aktites
  • Agave albescens
  • Agave albomarginata
  • Agave alibertii
  • Agave aloides
  • Agave amaniensis
  • Agave americana L. – American Agave, American Century Plant, Century Plant, Maguey americano
    • Agave americana var. americana
    • Agave americana var. expansa
    • Agave americana var. latifolia
    • Agave americana var. marginata
    • Agave americana var. medio-picta
    • Agave americana var. oaxacensis
    • Agave americana var. striata
    • Agave americana ssp. protamericana
Missing image
Agave_tequilana0.jpg
Tequila Agave (Agave tequilana)
Missing image
Agaveespinho1.jpg
Agave horrida
Missing image
Agave1web.jpg
agave

Reference

External links

es:Agave (planta) fr:Agave la:Agave (planta) nl:Agave zh:龍舌蘭草

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