Overview

Brief Summary

Economic and Cultural Significance of the Genus Agave

Agave, commonly referred to as “Century Plant” in North America and “Maguey” in Central and South America, is a genus of succulents comprised of more than 200 species (Franck 2012; Morales Areli et al. 2008). Several species are economically significant because they produce the commercial sweetener referred to as “agave nectar” or “agave syrup" which is thinner and sweeter than honey (Lopez et al. 2003). Other species are used to produce mezcals. The most popular mezcal, Tequila, is made from Agave tequilana var. azul, the "blue agave" and is a major export of Jalisco, Mexico (Dalton, 2005; Mohr 1999).  

Leaf fiber of certain species is used in the production of sisal hemp and henequen in Mexico, the West Indies and Southern Europe (Franck 2012; Morales Areli et al. 2008). Other products that have traditionally been derived from the plant include: coarse-weaving from fiber in the leaves, needles and pins from the leaf spines, tea and tincture from the leaves and the roots, and soap from the sap (Bye 1993; Miller & Taube 1993; Prescott 1843).  Agave was used extensively by Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztecs for religious and medicinal purposes as well as for furnishing many goods used in daily life (Bye, 1993).  The Aztecs (Mexica) considered agave and pulque (an alcoholic beverage derived from it) to be sacred (Miller and Taube 1993).

The plants were introduced to Europe in the 16th century as a result of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. Another result was the development of tequila. The first tequila factory was established by Don Pedro Sanches de Tagle, Marquis of Altamira in 1600 (Mohr 1993), but it was not until 1758 that Jose Antonio Cuervo, began agave cultivation and became the first licensed manufacturer of tequila (Valensuela Zapata & Nabhan 2003). Spirits derived from Agave were popular throughout the colonial period and became an important source of colonial tax revenue, but they did not achieve popularity outside of Mexico until the 1980s (Dalton 2005; Valensuela Zapata & Nabhan 2003 Morh 1999).  

Agave plants became widespread outside of their native range in the 19th century when they became as popular ornamental garden plants in Europe and the United States (Morh 1999).  Agave are now cultivated in North America, South America, Africa and Europe for ornamental and commercial reasons. Commonly cultivated species include: Agave shrevi, Agave americana, Agave attenuate, and Agave tequilana (Zdeněk & Kunte 2005). 

  • Bye, Robert (1993). The Role of Humans in the Diversification of Plants in Mexico. in “Biological Diversity of Mexico: Origins and Distribution” TP Ramamoorthy, Robert Bye, Antonio Lot and John Fa eds. Oxford University Press.
  • Dalton, Rex (2005). Alcohol &science: Saving the Agave. Nature 438 (22 December): 1070-1071.
  • Davidson, Alan (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University press.
  • Davis, Sarah C., Howard Griffiths, Joseph Holtum, Alfonso Larqué Saavedra, Stephen P. Long (2011). The Evaluation of Feedstocks in GCBB Continues with a Special Issue on Agave for Bioenergy. GCB Bioenergy, 3 (1): 1.
  • Franck, Alan R (2012). Guide to Agave, Cinnamomum, Corymbia, Eucalyptus, Pandanus and Sanservieria in the Flora of Floria. Phytoneuron 2012-102:1-23.
  • Lopez, Mercedes G. Norma A. Mancilla-Margalli, Guillermo Mendoza Diaz (2003). Molecular Structures of Fructans from Agave Tequilana Weber Var. azul. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. 51(77): 7835-7840.
  • Miller, Mary; and Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. Thames & Hudson.
  • Mohr, Gary M. Jr. (1999) "Blue Agave and Its Importance in the Tequila Industry," Ethnobotanical Leaflets, 1999(3): Article 2.
  • Morales Areli, Flores, Mora Escobedo Rosalva, Romero Lucero Aguilar (2008). Evaluación fisicoquímica del aguamiel de tres variedads de maguey pulquero (Agave spp.) Respyn: Rivista Salud Publica y Nutricón Edición Especial No.8.
  • Prescott, William H.[1843 (1979 reprint)]. History of the Conquest of Mexico and the Conquest of Peru, Modern Library, 79-80.
  • Valensuela Zapata, Ana Guadalupe & Gary Paul Nabhan (2003). Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History. University of Arizona Press.
  • Zdeněk, Ježek, Libor Kunte (2005). The Complete Encyclopedia of Succulents: Informative Text with Hundreds of Photographs. Bookmart Limited.
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There are around 200 species of agave. These plants have thick, fleshy, pointy leaves that are edged with spines. Though they look like cacti or aloe, they are not closely related. Many agaves have acidic sap that can hurt the skin. Agave americana is grown in homes and gardens. It is also used to make sweet agave syrup.

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Ecology

Associations

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / feeds on
Colletotrichum coelomycetous anamorph of Colletotrichum crassipes feeds on Agave

Foodplant / spot causer
concentrically arranged pycnidium of Conothyrium coelomycetous anamorph of Microsphaeropsis concentrica causes spots on dead leaf of Agave

Foodplant / spot causer
concentrically arranged colony of Pseudocercospora dematiaceous anamorph of Mycosphaerella deightonii causes spots on dead leaf of Agave

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:119
Specimens with Sequences:156
Specimens with Barcodes:133
Species:43
Species With Barcodes:41
Public Records:72
Public Species:31
Public BINs:0
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Barcode data

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Pre-Columbian Significance, and Traditional Medicinal Uses

Products derived from Agave were used throughout southeastern Mesoamerica in Pre-Columbian times and owe their Spanish common names to the tradition of use by indigenous peoples (Miller and Taube 1993). In Central and South America all plants of the genus are commonly called Maguey, which is derived from the Taino language name (Mata Pizón &  Zolla 1994a; Miller & Taube 1993).  The Nahuatl name for Agave, metl, is less common but also used colloquially (Miller & Taube 1993).

Products that have traditionally been derived from the plant include: string from fiber in the leaves, needles and pins from the leaf spines, tea and tincture from the leaves and the roots, and soap from the sap (Bye 1993; Miller & Taube 1993; Prescott 1843).  The leaves could be pounded into paste to make paper; or, alternatively, the membrane covering the leaves could be removed as a sheet to use as paper or for cooking (William H. Prescott 1843; Miller & Tuabe 1993). Fibers in the leaves of several species in Mexico, the West Indies and Southern Europe continue to be harvested today to produces sisal hemp or false sisal hemp (Franck 2012).

Agave products were used extensively by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures for religious and medicinal purposes as well as for furnishing goods used in everyday life (Bye, 1993). For instance, thorns from the plants were made into pins and needles used in leather embroidery and ritual bloodletting, and leaf fibers were woven into cloth (Mohr 1999; Miller and Taube 1993). The most important product was pulque which was used for religious ceremonies and public occasions (Miller and Taube 1993).

Pulque

Pulque was economically significant in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica economies (Miller and Taube 1993). It was a ritual drink offered to the gods that was the prerogative of priests and nobles when celebrating victories and priests and victims during ritual sacrifice (De Barrios 1980).  It was permitted among common people only if they were elders or pregnant women (De Barrios 1980).  Common people were permitted to drink it at certain festivals but only in small amounts (Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994b).

The Aztecs (Mexica) considered agave and pulque to be sacred (Miller and Taube 1993). In the pantheon of Aztec gods, Mayahuel is the divine embodiment of agave and is one of a system of maternal and fertility goddesses (Bye 1993; Miller & Taube 1993). It was said that her milk fed 400 rabbits which were the source of drunkenness in the world. Mayahuel’s milk is symbolic of pulque, which is a milky-white alcoholic beverage made by fermenting Agave sap (Miller and Taube 1993).

Pulque was closely restricted to certain classes of people and certain occasions under Aztec rule but it was secularized after the Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish and became widely consumed throughout the colonial period along with mezcals such as tequila (Miller and Taube 1993). It is still made and sold in Mexico today but has sharply declined in economic importance due to the rise in popularity of beer which has largely replaced its consumption (Mohr 1999). 

Traditional Medicine

Pulque is thought to have many medicinal properties that make it effective against gastrointestinal disorders, loss of appetite, general weakness, and kidney problems (Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994b).

Traditional medical recipes of the Aztecs are recorded in the “Indorum medicinalibus Libellusde herbis” also known as the “Codex de la Cruz-Badiano” (Byland 2000). According to the Codex, pulque with ground deer antlers could be taken as a remedy for pityriasis while a mixture of pulque, tuna, salt, nochtli and octli could supposedly promote lactation, treat parasitic infections, stomach inflammation and cure infertility of the womb (Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994b).

In his “Historia general de las cosas en de la Nueva España” Bernardino de Sahagún also noted maguey had beneficial medicinal properties. He advised that those who relapsed in disease take pulque by mouth mixed with a ground pod of pepper and ground pumpkin seeds.  He wrote that if one took it two or three times a day and went to the bathroom they would become healthy (Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994b).

Among the Mazahua people of Mexico, it is traditional for the women to drink the pulque while breast feeding to increase the flow and improve the quality of their milk (Mata Pizón, & Zolla 1994b). Indigenous people of the Mesquital Valley in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico have a similar custom of weaning their children by dipping a finger in pulque and letting their children suck on it (Mata Pizón, & Zolla 1994b).

Other agave products, such as leaf tea or tincture have a tradition of being taken orally for constipation, excessive gas, and as a diuretic. Root tea and tincture are taken for arthritic joints. Agave sap, alone or with salt, continues to be used to wash infected wounds and is taken orally for diverse renal-urinary problems (Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994a). 

  • Bye, Robert (1993). The Role of Humans in the Diversification of Plants in Mexico. in “Biological Diversity of Mexico: Origins and Distribution” TP Ramamoorthy, Robert Bye, Antonio Lot and John Fa eds. Oxford University Press.
  • Byland, Bruce (2000). "Introduction to the Dover Edition". An Aztec Herbal: The Classic Codex of 1552.
  • Franck, Alan R (2012). Guide to Agave, Cinnamomum, Corymbia, Eucalyptus, Pandanus and Sanservieria in the Flora of Floria. Phytoneuron 2012-102:1-23.
  • Mata Pizón, Soledad and Carlos Zolla (1994a). “Maguey” In Diccionario Encilopédico de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana. Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
  • Mata Pizón, Soledad and Carlos Zolla (1994b). “Pulque” In Diccionario Encilopédico de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana. Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
  • Miller, Mary; and Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. Thames & Hudson.
  • Mohr, Gary M. Jr. (1999) "Blue Agave and Its Importance in the Tequila Industry," Ethnobotanical Leaflets, 1999(3): Article 2.
  • Prescott, William H.[1843 (1979 reprint)]. History of the Conquest of Mexico and the Conquest of Peru, Modern Library, 79-80.
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Edible Products

All four of the major parts of the agave can be eaten: flowers, leaves, stalks or basal rosettes and sap (Davidson 1999).  The plants bloom every 8 to 12 years and each plant may produce several pounds of edible flowers. During inflorescence sap collects in the base of the flower stalk(Davidson 1999). The stalks the flowers grow on can be roasted and pulverized to extract the sap. Leaves can also be collected for eating in winter and spring when the plant is rich with sap. Species are grown for commercial sap production include: Agave tequilana, Agave salmiana and Agave Americana (Morales Areli et al. 2008).  

Agave Sap

Agave sap is rich in carbohydrates such as inulin, sucrose and fructose and also contains small amounts of amino acids and vitamins (Morales Areli et al. 2008). It is collected from many species but particularly A. tequilana, A.atrovirens, A. potatorum, and A. americana. The sap is commonly called “aguamiel” (honey water), “agave syrup,” and “agave nectar.” Although it has traditionally been harvested to make pulque or mezcal it can also be drunk on its own or used as a sweetening agent(Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994a). The sap, which is thinner and sweeter than honey, is produced as a commercial sweetener that can be added to mass produced cereals or sold in individual bottles to be used in home-cooking (Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994a; Mohr 1993).

Pulque

Pulque is an alcoholic beverage that was religiously and economically significant in Mesoamerica in the pre-Columbian economy (Miller and Taube 1993). It is made by fermenting agave sap. Pulque was closely restricted under Aztec rule but it was secularized after the Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish and became widely consumed throughout the colonial period (Miller and Taube 1993).

Pulque can be made from many agave species: A. teometl Zucc., A weberi Cels., A. altísima Jacobi, A compilata Trel., A. gracillispina Englem., A. malliflia Trel., A. quitifera Trel., A. crassispina Trel., A. mapisaga Trel., A Americana L., A. salmiana Otto., and Salm A. atrovirens (Morales Areli et al. 2008). A key distinguishing feature between pulque and tequila is that pulque can be made from many different species of agave while tequila must be made from Agave tequilana var. azul to qualify as tequila (Miller and Taube 1993).

Mezcal (& Tequila)

Mezcal is a drink made from the cooked heart of certain agave plants. Because all tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila, many different species of mezcal may be made into agave.

Tequila is a variety of mezcal made from Agave tequilana var. azul, commonly known as Blue agave. Blue agave is made into tequila by cooking the sap out of the stems which is then fermented and distilled into liquor. Production is limited to 5 Mexican states with most of the production taking place in Jalisco, Mexico (Dalton 2005).

Biofuel Feed Stock Potential

It has been found in 14 different studies that 2 species of agave greatly exceed the yields of other biofuel feed stocks including corn, soybeans, sorghum and wheat. Agave is set apart from these crops because of its “high water use efficiency and ability to survive between rain falls (Davis et al. 2011).” Davis et al. suggest that abandoned agave farms in Mexico in Africa that had previously produced material for the natural fiber market could be converted into bioenergy cropland and that the biomass of agave could be co-harvested with sap in tequila production without additional land demands (Davis et al. 2011).

  • Dalton, Rex (2005). Alcohol &science: Saving the Agave. Nature 438 (22 December): 1070-1071.
  • Davidson, Alan (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University press.
  • Davis, Sarah C., Howard Griffiths, Joseph Holtum, Alfonso Larqué Saavedra, Stephen P. Long (2011). The Evaluation of Feedstocks in GCBB Continues with a Special Issue on Agave for Bioenergy. GCB Bioenergy, 3 (1): 1.
  • Mata Pizón, Soledad and Carlos Zolla (1994a). “Maguey” In Diccionario Encilopédico de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana. Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
  • Mata Pizón, Soledad and Carlos Zolla (1994b). “Pulque” In Diccionario Encilopédico de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana. Instituto Nacional Indigenista.
  • Miller, Mary; and Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. Thames & Hudson.
  • Morales Areli, Flores, Mora Escobedo Rosalva, Romero Lucero Aguilar (2008). Evaluación fisicoquímica del aguamiel de tres variedads de maguey pulquero (Agave spp.) Respyn: Rivista Salud Publica y Nutricón Edición Especial No.8.
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Wikipedia

Agave

Agave

Agave (pronounced /əˈɡɑːveɪ/[1] or /əˈɡeɪviː/[2]) is a genus of monocots. The plants are perennial, but each stem flowers once and then dies; they are commonly known as century plant.[3]

In the APG III system, the genus is placed in the subfamily Agavoideae of the broadly circumscribed family Asparagaceae.[4] Some authors prefer to place it in the segregate family Agavaceae. Traditionally, it was circumscribed to comprise about 166 species, but it is now usually understood to have about 208 species.[5]

Contents

Description

Chiefly Mexican, agaves occur also in the southern and western United States and in central and tropical South America. They are succulents with a large rosette of thick fleshy leaves, each ending generally in a sharp point and with a spiny margin; the stout stem is usually short, the leaves apparently springing from the root. Along with plants from the related genus Yucca, various Agave species are popular ornamental plants.

Agave harvesting in Java.

Each rosette is monocarpic and grows slowly to flower only once. During flowering, a tall stem or "mast" grows from the center of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of shortly tubular flowers. After development of fruit, the original plant dies, but suckers are frequently produced from the base of the stem, which become new plants.

It is a common misconception that agaves are cacti. They are not related to cacti, nor are they closely related to Aloe whose leaves are similar in appearance.

Agave species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including Batrachedra striolata, which has been recorded on A shawii.

Taxonomy

In the Cronquist system and others, Agave was placed in the family Liliaceae, but phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequences later showed that it did not belong there.[6] In the APG II system, Agave was placed in the family Agavaceae. When this system was superseded by the APG III system in 2009, Agavaceae was subsumed into the expanded family Asparagaceae, and Agave was treated as one of 18 genera in the subfamily Agavoideae.[4]

Agave had long been treated as a genus of about 166 species, but it is now known that this concept of Agave is paraphyletic over the genera Manfreda, Polianthes, and Prochnyanthes. These genera are now combined with Agave as Agave sensu lato, which contains about 208 species. In some of the older classifications, Agave was divided into two subgenera, Agave and Littaea, based on the form of the inflorescence. These two subgenera are probably not monophyletic.[6]

Agaves have long presented special difficulties for taxonomy; variations within a species may be considerable, and a number of named species are of unknown origin and may just be variants of original wild species.

Spanish and Portuguese explorers probably brought agave plants back to Europe with them, but the plants became popular in Europe during the 19th century, when many types were imported by collectors. Some have been continuously propagated by offset since then, and do not consistently resemble any species known in the wild, although this may simply be due to the differences in growing conditions in Europe.

Commonly grown species

The most commonly grown species include Agave americana, Agave angustifolia, Agave tequilana, and Agave attenuata.

The inflorescence of an agave plant.

Agave americana

One of the most familiar species is Agave americana, a native of tropical America. Common names include century plant, maguey (in Mexico), or American aloe (it is not, however, closely related to the genus Aloe). The name "century plant" refers to the long time the plant takes to flower. The number of years before flowering occurs depends on the vigor of the individual plant, the richness of the soil and the climate; during these years the plant is storing in its fleshy leaves the nourishment required for the effort of flowering.

Agave americana, century plant, was introduced into Europe about the middle of the 16th century, and is now widely cultivated for its handsome appearance; in the variegated forms, the leaf has a white or yellow marginal or central stripe from base to apex. As the leaves unfold from the center of the rosette, the impression of the marginal spines is very conspicuous on the still erect younger leaves. The tequ plants are usually grown in tubs and put out in the summer months, but in the winter require protection from frost. They mature very slowly and die after flowering, but are easily propagated by the offsets from the base of the stem.

Agave attenuata

A. attenuata is a native of central Mexico and is uncommon in its natural habitat. Unlike most species of Agave, A. attenuata has a curved flower spike from which it derives one of its numerous common names - the foxtail agave. A. attenuata is also commonly grown as a garden plant. Unlike many agaves, A. attenuata has no teeth or terminal spines, making it an ideal plant for areas adjacent to footpaths. Like all agaves, A. attenuata is a succulent and requires little water or maintenance once established.

Agave tequilana

Agave azul (blue agave) is used in the production of tequila.

Uses

The large flower spike of Agave chiapensis

Four major parts of the agave are edible: the flowers, the leaves, the stalks or basal rosettes, and the sap (called aguamiel—honey water). (Davidson 1999)

Each agave plant will produce several pounds of edible flowers during its final season. The stalks, which are ready during the summer, before the blossom, weigh several pounds each. Roasted, they are sweet and can be chewed to extract the aguamiel, like sugarcane. When dried out, the stalks can be used to make didgeridoos. The leaves may be collected in winter and spring, when the plants are rich in sap, for eating. The leaves of several species also yield fiber: for instance, Agave rigida var. sisalana, sisal hemp, Agave decipiens, false sisal hemp. Agave americana is the source of pita fiber, and is used as a fiber plant in Mexico, the West Indies and southern Europe.

During the development of the inflorescence, there is a rush of sap to the base of the young flower stalk. Agave syrup (also called agave nectar) is used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and it can be added to breakfast cereals as a binding agent.[7] In the case of A. americana and other species, this is used in Mexico and Mesoamerica in the production of the beverage pulque. The flower shoot is cut out and the sap collected and subsequently fermented. By distillation, a spirit called mezcal is prepared; one of the best-known forms of mezcal is tequila. In 2001, the Mexican Government and European Union agreed upon the classification of tequila and its categories. All 100% blue agave tequila must be made from the Weber blue agave plant, to rigorous specifications and only in certain Mexican states.

People have found a few other uses of the plant aside from its several uses as food. When dried and cut in slices, the flowering stem forms natural razor strops, and the expressed juice of the leaves will lather in water like soap. The natives of Mexico used the agave to make pens, nails and needles, as well as string to sew and make weavings. Leaf tea or tincture taken orally is used to treat constipation and excess gas. It is also used as a diuretic. Root tea or tincture is taken orally to treat arthritic joints.[citation needed] Several agave species are also considered to have potential as effective bioenergy crops.[8]

Warnings

The juice from many species of agave can cause acute contact dermatitis. It will produce reddening and blistering lasting one to two weeks. Episodes of itching may recur up to a year thereafter, even though there is no longer a visible rash. Irritation is, in part, caused by calcium oxalate raphides. Dried parts of the plants can be handled with bare hands with little or no effect. If the skin is pierced deeply enough by the needle-like ends of the leaf from a vigorously growing plant, this can also cause blood vessels in the surrounding area to erupt and an area some 6–7 cm across appear to be bruised. This may last up to two to three weeks.

Images of species and cultivars

Species

See List of Agave species.

See also

Agave nectar

References

  1. ^ An Anglo-Hispanic pronunciation. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607.
  2. ^ An Anglo-Latin pronunciation. OED: "Agave".
  3. ^ Bailey, L.H.; Bailey, E.Z.; the staff of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium. 1976. Hortus third: A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. Macmillan, New York.
  4. ^ a b Mark W. Chase, James L. Reveal, and Michael F. Fay. 2009. "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae, and Xanthorrhoeaceae". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161(2):132-136.
  5. ^ Sara V. Good-Avila, Valeria Souza, Brandon S. Gaut, and Luis E. Eguiarte. 2006. "Timing and rate of speciation in Agave (Agavaceae)". PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA) 103(24):9124-9129. doi:10.1073/pnas.0603312103
  6. ^ a b David J. Bogler, J. Chris Pires, and Javier Francisco-Ortega. 2006. "Phylogeny of Agavaceae based on ndhF, rbcL, and ITS sequences: Implications of molecular data for classification". Aliso 22(Monocots: Comparative Biology and Evolution):313-328.
  7. ^ Chomka, Stefan (30 July 2007). "Dorset Cereals". The Grocer (Crawley, England: William Reed Business Media). http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/articles.aspx?page=independentarticle&ID=120966. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  8. ^ Davis, S. C.; Griffiths, H.; Holtum, J.; Saavedra, A. L. �; Long, S. P. (2011). "The Evaluation of Feedstocks in GCBB Continues with a Special Issue on Agave for Bioenergy". GCB Bioenergy 3: 1. doi:10.1111/j.1757-1707.2010.01085.x.  edit free summary: Wiley - Blackwell (2011, January 26). Agave fuels excitement as a bioenergy crop. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110126121102.htm

Bibliography

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

In the Cronquist system and others, Agave was placed in the family Liliaceae, but phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequences later showed that it did not belong there.[6] In the APG II system, Agave was placed in the family Agavaceae. When this system was superseded by the APG III system in 2009, Agavaceae was subsumed into the expanded family Asparagaceae, and Agave was treated as one of 18 genera in the subfamily Agavoideae.[4]

Agave had long been treated as a genus of about 166 species, but it is now known that this concept of Agave is paraphyletic over the genera Manfreda, Polianthes, and Prochnyanthes. These genera are now combined with Agave as Agave sensu lato, which contains about 208 species. In some of the older classifications, Agave was divided into two subgenera, Agave and Littaea, based on the form of the inflorescence. These two subgenera are probably not monophyletic.[6]

Agaves have long presented special difficulties for taxonomy; variations within a species may be considerable, and a number of named species are of unknown origin and may just be variants of original wild species.

Spanish and Portuguese explorers probably brought agave plants back to Europe with them, but the plants became popular in Europe during the 19th century, when many types were imported by collectors. Some have been continuously propagated by offset since then, and do not consistently resemble any species known in the wild, although this may simply be due to the differences in growing conditions in Europe.

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