The genus Agave is treated here in a wide sense to include taxa previously treated as belonging to the genera Manfreda, Prochnyanthes, Polianthes and Pseudobravoa. Not all botanists are happy with this treatment, with some feeling that these genera should remain distinct, at least until further studies have been carried out. In addition, given the high species diversity found in Agave, some feel that an alternative approach could be the recognition of several smaller genera within the current circumscription of Agave[
Agave bulbifera Salm-Dyck
Agave candelabrum Tod.
Agave cantula Roxb.
Agave rumphii Hassk.
Agave stenophylla Jacobi
Furcraea cantala Haw.
Agave cantala is an evergreen, succulent, perennial plant developing a short stem 30 - 60cm tall atop of which is a rosette of leaves that can each be 150 - 200cm long and 7 - 9cm wide. The flowering stem can be up to 8 metres tall, after which the rosette usually dies. However, the plant usually produces suckers and these continue growing[
The plant is often cultivated for its fibre, especially in Asia from the Philippines to India[
Many Agave species have strong, sharp spines on the leaves and leaf tips.
In theory at least, the flowers, nectar, immature flowering stem and the centre of the rosette of all Agave species is edible and, with proper preparation, can provide a sweet, tasty foodstuff. Some species, however, contain relatively high levels of saponins (which makes them taste bitter) and some other compounds which can cause bellyache, and so these would only be eaten in times of desperation. In addition, many people may find these foods to be strongly laxative the first few times they eat them[
C. America to southern N. America - Mexico.
Not known as a truly wild plant
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Agave cantala is a plant of the drier tropics. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 17 - 30°c, but can tolerate 10 - 38°c[
]. It is able to withstand occasional temperatures down to at least -4°c, so long as the weather and soil are fairly dry[
]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,000 - 2,000mm, but tolerates 400 - 2,700mm[
Requires a sunny position in a well-drained soil. Prefers a pH in the range 6.5 - 7.5, tolerating 6 - 8[
The leaves contain about 4% fibre and yields of clean fibre vary between 1.1 - 3 tonnes per hectare[
Agave species generally require a sunny position, succeeding in most soils of medium-fertility so long as they are very well-drained. Most species are undemanding as to the soil pH, though those found in the wild on limestone soils will grow better in neutral to alkaline conditions. Plants are generally very tolerant of dry conditions and of extended periods of drought[
Most Agave species are monocarpic, individual rosettes living for a number of years without flowering before sending up an often very large flowering stem and then dying after flowering and setting seed. This species, however, produces a number of new rosettes from suckers or offsets during its lifespan and these new plants will continue to grow after the death of the parent plant. Over time, some species can form extensive clonal colonies by this means[
Individual plants take about 7 - 15 years in their native habitat, considerably longer in colder climates, before flowering[
Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[
The plant has a lifespan of more than 15 - 30 years[
Shoot buds - cooked and eaten as a vegetable[
The heart of the rosette, with the leaf bases attached, is slow-baked and used to make 'mezcal'[
]. Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage that potentially can be made from almost any species of Agave, though only around fifty are used regularly and seven species are especially favoured. Mature plants are harvested from the wild, their leaves and roots are removed and the remaining 'hearts' are baked (often in an earth oven), then mashed and the resulting liquid allowed to ferment for a few days before being distilled to produce mezcal.
The leaf is used in the treatment of wounds[
]. (The sap is probably used[
Often planted as a hedge along the roadsides and in gardens, it is also used for reducing soil erosion along rivers and brooks[
The plant is traditionally grown in living fences in the northwestern Himalayas, where it helps to exclude livestock and other animals; mark out land boundaries; whilst also providing a range of medicinal and other uses[
A fibre is obtained from the leaves[
]. It is mainly used for baskets, mats, fishing-nets, ropes, harvest binding strings, hammocks, bags and sandals[
]. The fibre is finer but less strong than that of sisal (Agave sisalana) and henequen (Agave fourcroydes)[
]. It is more suitable for spinning than that of sisal[
]. Wrapping paper is produced from the remainders[
The fibre is prepared by boiling the leaves for six hours, then forcing them through rollers, and scraping the flesh away[
The roots contain saponins and can be used as a soap substitute[
Seed - surface sow in a container in a light position. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15 - 20°c[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of well-drained soil when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a sunny position until they are at least 10cm tall before planting out.
Offsets and suckers can be potted up at any time they are available.
Bulbils, where produced, are an easy method of propagation. Simply pot them up and plant out at the beginning of a growing season when they are 10cm or more tall.