The Textural and Architectural Century Plant

Called the Century Plant for a good reason, Agave live for many years in dry and inhospitable conditions. Desert plants from the southern United States and Mexico, they are slow growing, and some species never get very big, staying at a very tidy softball sized clump for most of their lives.


In some areas, the clumps are the size of a small car, comprised of many rosettes of spined leaves, warning the unwary to stay away.

One unique characteristic of Agave is the single spine at the end of every leaf.

Although they may resemble Aloe in some cases, this single thorn is there to remind you that they are not to be messed with.

Quick Facts About Agave;

If you’ve got a plant with wicked spines on the ends of every leaf, you may have an Agave. These tough as nails plants are well armed. Those thorns hurt! Often, commercial nurseries and growers will prune these off to make the plant a little more friendly to the general public.

There are many different forms of Agave.

Some are the size of a teacup, others much more robust. The ones you get as house plants won’t stay that size! You can be sure they’ll outgrow their pot, and your house in a couple of seasons.

Meanwhile, enjoy their architectural growth habit, in particular the watermarks left on the leaves as each successive layer opens. These plants are very drought tolerant.

Their soil requirements are easy going, and they actually prefer to be somewhat root bound.

Don’t repot them too often, they will just grow to fit the pot. In time, they will produce ‘pups’ or small plants around the base – cut these off, or just twist them to remove them to pot on separately.

It’s a good idea to keep a few young’uns started to replace the aging mother plant – she’ll die if she ever blooms. Sometimes the flower stalks can be twenty feet tall, making this type of plants a logistical nightmare.

Because of the thorns, it’s best to plant these away from trafficked areas, and out of reach of children, who are right at the level to get these in their face.

Some growers cut these off, to make it easier for workers when handling them.

Many Agave also show ‘watermarks’ – a distinctive pattern caused by the pressure of each row of leaves on the outer surface of the inner row of leaves.


The juice from the leaves is used commercially to make pulque, or tequila. It is also poisonous until it’s received the right treatment in the manufacture of this potent beverage.

To grow these indoors as houseplants, it’s best to select those that stay small, and even then, their lifespan is only about ten years before they’ll outgrow their space.

Luckily, they produce pups at their base, so it’s usually possible to keep named varieties or specialty variegated ones going indefinitely.

In a landscape, they will grow very slowly for ten to fifty years, and then suddenly put out a flower stalk, which can tower overhead at over 3 meters (15′) tall.

This is not a plant for a well behaved and domesticated landscape, rather a rough and rugged themed desert garden.

The pages below have been left by other visitors…

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