Agave americana is an evergreen succulent plant native to Mexico. It has become naturalized in parts of Africa, Australia, India, Europe and the United States. Also known as the century plant, it takes around ten years to bloom in warm climates and up to 60 years to bloom in cooler climates. The plant dies after blooming, but it produces many “pups,” or baby plants, which remain to take its place.
In appearance, Agave americana is a large and impressive plant with huge leaves that grow from a central, spreading rosette. Each thick, gray-green leaf can reach up to 6 feet (1.83 meters) in length and 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) in width. Leaves also contain large spikes at their end that can cut flesh to the bone. Century plant's flower stalk is perhaps its most impressive feature, however, reaching up to 40 feet (12.19 meters) in height and bearing large, yellow-green flowers.
Although its native habitat is the desert, Agave americana can survive in slightly cooler climates, as long as it is not exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degreees Celsius). In areas where temperatures drop below this point, the plant is grown in containers or greenhouses for protection. Agave americana is drought-tolerant and thrives in full sun with well-drained soil and once-per-month watering. The plant requires little care in the home garden as long as acceptable temperatures are maintained.
Agave americana is commonly grown for ornamental purposes, although it does have a few more interesting uses. In Central America, the plant is used as fencing to keep livestock contained and trespassers at bay. A thick row of century plants is virtually impenetrable to humans and animals. The plant's leaves are harvested for their fiber, known as pita, which is used to make rope and cloth. Another common use of the plant is the commercial production of agave nectar, which is marketed as a natural sugar substitute.
The Agave americana plant has also been used as a home herbal remedy for treating a variety of ailments. The plant's sap is believed to have diuretic, laxative and antiseptic properties, while the juice from its leaves can be applied externally to scrapes, bruises and other minor skin abrasions to expedite healing. The juice can also be consumed internally for treating constipation, flatulence, upset stomach and heartburn.
Aside from its ornamental and medicinal uses, century plant also has several culinary uses. The seeds of Agave americana can be ground into flour and used in baking, and the heart of the plant is often roasted and eaten for its sweet flavor. The plant's sap is also fermented to create a beverage similar to beer, which is known as pulque.