The century plant or maguey (Agave americana) is an agave originally from Mexico but cultivated worldwide as an ornamental plant. It has since naturalised in many regions and grows wild in Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
It has a spreading rosette (about 4 m wide) of gray-green leaves up to 2 m (6 ft) long, each with a spiny margin and a heavy spike at the tip that can pierce to the bone. Its common name derives from its habit of only occasionally flowering, but when it does, the spike with a cyme of big yellow flowers, may reach up to 8 m (25 ft) in height. The plant dies after flowering, but produces suckers or adventitious shoots from the base, which continue its growth. The average life-span is around 10 years.
Cultivated varieties include the "marginata" with yellow stripes along the margins of each leaf, "medio-picta" with a central white band, "striata" with multiple yellow to white stripes along the leaves, and "variegata" with white edges on the leaves.
It is also known as the American aloe, although it is in a different family from the true aloes.
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 the drink called pulque. The leaves also yield fibers, 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. Both pulque and maguey fibre were important to the economy of pre-Columbian Mexico. Production continues today to a much lesser extent. Agave nectar (also called agave syrup) has recently been marketed as a healthful natural sugar substitute.
- Agave americana var. americana
- Agave americana var. expansa
- Agave americana var. latifolia
- Agave americana var. marginata
- Agave americana var. medio-picta
- Agave americana var. oaxacensis
- Agave americana ssp. protamericana
- Agave americana var. striata
- Agave americana var. variegata
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