Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Agave, a large genus of Amaryllidaceae, mostly natives of the southern parts of North America, yielding several useful substances. In structure the Agaves bear a great resemblance to the Liliaceous, genus Aloe (q.v.), differing from most Amaryllidaceae in the absence of bulbs, in their thick woody stems, thick fleshy and often spinous leaves, valvate aestivation and hollow styles. They differ from Aloes in having an inferior ovary. The Agaves produce flowering stems, sometimes many feet in height, which vegetate for many years, ultimately producing a large terminal panicle of flowers and dying of the effort. A single plant may produce 5,000 flowers, so that the ground beneath is wet with the honey distilled by them. Agave americana is known in the United States, from a mistaken idea as to the period of vegetative growth, as the "century plant," and in the Mediterranean region, where it is naturalised, as the "American aloe." In Mexico it is cultivated, under the name of "maguey," over 50,000 square miles for the sake of its saccharine sap and its fibre. The terminal bud is cut out just before flowering, and abundance of sap exudes, which is fermented into a drink called pulque, that yields on distillation a spirit known as mescal. The fibre of the veins of the leaves was used by the ancient Mexicans for paper, and is now largely exported for the same purpose and for cordage. That of A. americana is known as Pita or Mexican grass and is shipped from Tehuantepec; that of A. vivipara is termed Silk grass, and that of A. sisalana. shipped from Yucatan and now also from Jamaica, Grass or Sisal hemp.