Agave is a genus of plants mostly native to the hot and arid regions of the Americas, but which have now been cultivated in other parts of the Americas, Europe, and Africa. While sometimes mistaken for a type of cactus or aloe, they are distinct from these plants. Agave are fascinating and unique plants that whose history and uses extend much further than Tequila and agave nectar. Here are some things that you should know.
There are a huge number of agave species. As of 2017, 270 species have been identified. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Agave_species
They grow and mature extremely slowly, leading some species to be referred to as the "century plant".
Agave have become popular ornamental plants in hot, dry climates
Most species are monocarpic, meaning they will only flower once before dying. Each agave plant produces several pounds of flowers during its final season.
Some Agave bloom at a height up to 30 ft, which protects them from pests.
Due to inhabiting dry climates, agave are very efficient at capturing moisture from rain, condensation and dew, which they store in their leaves. Most species have teeth along their thick skinned leaves that terminate into an extremely sharp spike. These adaptations are used to discourage predators from eating the plant or using it as a source of water.
Though most often associated with Mezcal and Tequila, agave has a long history of being used to create fermented beverages even before the introduction of distillation. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made from fermenting agave sap that extends back to the Mesoamerican period. Though it was largely superseded in popularity by beer when it was introduced by European settlers, there are some that are looking to revive pulque.
Indigenous American people (such as the Aztec and Navajo) had many used for the agave plant as food and drink (the flowers, leaves, stalks, root and sap are edible when properly prepared). They also had industrial uses for the plant including using the leaves as thatch,
thread, and rope, and the leaf's thorny end as needles.
Author Grant Lewis