Agave (Agave americana)

Agave (Agave americana)

Origin: This species is probably the Agave most commonly grown as an ornamental plant cultivated worldwide. Because of extensive propagation, its exact origin is uncertain although it probably came from arid areas of Mexico. It also has escaped cultivation and become established in the Mediterranean region of Africa and Europe.
Etymology: In ancient Greek mythology  "Agave" was the daughter of Cadmus, the king and founder of the city of Thebes, and of the goddess Harmonia. She married Echion, one of the five spartoi, and was the mother of Pentheus, a king of Thebes. She was a Maenad, a follower of Dionysus.
Description:    Solitary or slowly  clumping  large leaf succulent with a basal rosette (up to 4 m wide)
Leaves: Thick and massive grey-blue up to 150-200 cm long and 25 cm 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 2,5 cm long.
Flowers: The inflorescence of the Agave americana is branched can reach epic proportions, soaring 3 -7 m or more, and bears large (6-10cm) yellow-green flowers. Inflorescences look like asparagus spears as they grow.
The "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.
 Cultivation:  Specimens even survive in pots or in the ground in the wet winters of the south coast of England. At the other extreme it may be seen planted out in southern Arizona and Texas. They are usually cultivated outdoors in rock gardens, in cactus and succulent gardens, in Mediterranean-style landscapes, in borders, or as a specimen. Need full sun and a very well-drained, slightly acidic, sandy or gravely soil. As an ornamental it is also  grown in containers where it stays much smaller than its outdoor brethren. Agave americana is theoretically hardy to -9° C ,  particularly when dry and it is best to avoid severe  freezing temperatures. Keep it in a cool, frost-free area in winter and put it out on the balcony or patio in summer. The Agave americana grows fairly fast in summer if provided with copious water but allows to dry thoroughly before watering again. During the winter months, one should only water enough to keep the leaves from shriveling. They do well in full sun or a lightly shaded area.
Warning: It can get very large, and it is armed with needle-sharp spines.
Use:
    * Scenography: These striking plants are wonderful when used for accent or simply to provide some all year round foliage and often used in a pot as a patio plant, can be moved around to change the scenery or position to give more shelter
    * Medicine: 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
    * Food: 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.
    * Alcoholic drinks: If the flower stem is cut without flowering, a sweet liquid called agua miel ("honey water") gathers in the heart of the plant. This may be fermented to produce a beer-like drink called pulque, which may then be distilled to produce mezcal. 
    * Fibres: The leaves also yield fibres, known as pita, which are suitable for making rope, matting, coarse cloth and are used for embroidery of leather in a technique known as piteado.

Family: Agavaceae
Scientific Name: Agave americana L.
Common name: Century plant, American aloe
Synonims: Agave ramosa Moench.
 


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