More than 200 species of agave plants were recognized by botanists and horticulturalists as of February 2010. More than 300 have been described and documented, although approximately 100 of those species no longer exist. Agave plants are native to Mexico, where they grow wild on the Mexican plains and mountains.
The leaves of agave plants are thick and water-retaining. The leaves are arranged in symmetrical, rosette-shaped patterns. Some species of agave have saw-like teeth on the long sides of the leaves, with spiny needles on the tip of each leaf. Other species' leaves are perfectly smooth.
Agave plants produce blossoms. Some species produce only one blossom in their lifetime, and others produce flowers each year. The blossoms of the agave plant produce a sweet scent that attracts bats; bats pollinate the blossoms.
Soil and Water Needs
The agave plant is extremely drought-tolerant. In its native and natural state, it grows in rocky, poor-quality soil with infrequent rains. In home gardens, the agave needs sandy or sandy loam soil so that it is never sitting in water. The agave does not like too much water, and if left to sit in overly moist soil, the roots will rot.
Once the plant is established, there is no need to provide supplemental hand-watering. The agave survives on rain water even if there are several weeks between rains.
An agave plant needs a great deal of sun to thrive. For best results, it needs 8 to 10 hours of bright, direct light. The plant can tolerate short periods of filtered light, but cannot grow properly if it is left in the shade. The ideal place for an agave plant is in an area where there are no buildings, fences, or large plants or trees that will cause it to sit in the shade.
Traditionally, American Indians used agave plants for a variety of uses. The fibers of the agave were woven to make fabric. The sugary-sweet syrup of agave was fermented to produce alcoholic drinks. In modern times, agave nectar is purified and used as a naturally sweet alternative to table sugar.