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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Genus: Agave 

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Asparagales > Family: Asparagaceae

About 275 species, native to the New World. Four species have become naturalised in southern Africa and there are a further eight species that are cultivated in this region. The genus includes Sisal Agave sisalana, which is widely cultivated for production of fibre. Pulque is an alcoholic drink derived from fermented sap of Agave plants. Mescal and tequila are distilled from the fermented sap. Agave was previously placed in the family Agavaceae, which is now sunk under Asparagaceae.

Species naturalised in southern Africa

List from Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI).

Agave americana (Century plant, Maguey, American aloe)

Native to Mexico. Called Century plant because of the mistaken belief that it only starts flowering after 100 years. In fact it starts flowering after 10-20 years. Grown extensively in the karoo, South Africa where it is harvested for the productions of agava, which is an alcoholic drink produced in a similar manner to tequila.

Agave decipiens

Native to the USA.

Agave sisalana (Sisal)

Native to Mexico. Cultivated for the production of fibre.

Agave vivipara

Native to Mexico.

Other species, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002).

Agave angustifolia

Agave attenuata

Native to Mexico.

Agave echinoides

Native to Mexico.

Agave lechuguilla (Lechuguilla, Tula ixtle)

Native to Mexico and Texas. Fibre derived from this plant is used for making brushes.

Agave lespinassei

Native to Mexico.

Agave salmiana

Native to Mexico.

Agave vera-cruz

Native to Mexico. Grown as a commercial source of fructose.

Agave wercklei

Native to Costa Rica.


Other signficant species

Agave tequilana (Tequila plant, Blue agave)

Native to Mexico. The stems of the Tequila plant (which look like spiny, succulent leaves) are harvested just prior to the emergence of the flowering stalk, which is when the sugar levels of the plant sap are at their highest. Tequila is made from the sap that is extracted and can only be called tequila if it originates from Tequila plants from the Guadalajara region of SW Mexico. An agave worm (termed maguey worm or gusano) is added to each bottle to show that the alcohol levels are high enough for the worm not to rot. The Tequila plant is not cultivated in southern Africa but is included here because people in southern Africa do drink tequila.