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Plants: Species

Agave or Century Plant Agave americana

FAMILY: Agavaceae (Agave Family)

The name agave comes from the Greek word agavos, meaning noble or admirable, and this group of plants has lived up to its name. 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.

The Agave americana is often called the century plant because was reputed to bloom only once in 100 years, but that's an exaggeration. It does only bloom once in its lifetime, but usually between 7 and 20 years. The main plant then dies, but most species produce shoots that will take over and grow to maturity. Beautiful flower spikes reach for the sky in many, including the Century Plant Agave americana which can have a bloom spike up to 40 feet (12 meters) high!

Perhaps one of the best known uses for agave is the production of tequila, which has long been a vital industry in Mexico. Tequila is made from the fermented and distilled juices, called aquamiel or "honey water," produced by the agave just before it flowers. In 1999, Mexico exported some 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of tequila to the United States, and the current annual value of these exports is about 200 million dollars. In fact, the agave plants grown on plantations are so valuable that they must be protected from agave rustlers!