This noble genus includes a great number of species, one of them at least being known to every one - the well known century plant. All the species have one characteristic: when fully matured they send up a stately flower spike from the center of the crown of leaves and then die. This is the case with the great majority, although there are a few that continue to flower year after year. They are almost all from Mexico, a few from South America and one or two from our extreme southwestern states.
There is a widespread fallacy in connection with Agave Americana. It is popularly supposed that they live 100 years and then flower and die, hence the familiar name. They will not flower till they have made their full growth, but that may be fifty years or seventy-five years. We remember a pair of A. Americana that we had watched from infancy, one the plain green and one variegated. They were of immense weight, each weighing a ton or more with the large tub and soil. About 1856 they both flowered together and sent their candelabra-like spikes twenty-five feet in the air. It was a remarkable co-incidence that both showed flower the same season, as no one knew their ages and the one who had taken them as suckers from the parent plant was long gone from his field of labor.
Within forty years there have been several distinct and beautiful species discovered in Mexico, some of which have not yet flowered and no knowledge of their flower is available. Most of the species are stemless, but not all, their fleshy leaves radiating symmetrically from near the base of the plant. Nicholson's Dictionary of Gardening enumerates nearly a hundred species and then states there are many more which it is not worth while to describe as there is only one specimen of each in cultivation. They vary in size from eighteen inches in height and the same in width to the majestic species of ten feet in diameter.
Agave Americana in Flower.
The smaller species make beautiful plants for the greenhouse or for outdoor decoration, and the large species are noble objects for the adornment of large grounds but get very heavy and awkward to handle when of any considerable size. Few plants will put up with the rough treatment that is often given the agave. Their thick, succulent leaves provide them with the means of resisting long periods of drought.
The same general treatment will suit all the species. A well drained pot or tub, with good turfy loam; add leaf-mold or sand if heavy. They will stand the strongest sun out of doors and should receive plenty of water. In winter, if you wish merely to store them for next season's growth they will do very well in any cool house or even shed, but must not freeze, and when the temperature is low they will do without water for weeks. They are easily propagated by suckers, which you have only to cut off and pot.
The rarer species are too expensive for the commercial florist and in too little demand, and the larger species require too much labor and room to be of any profit; they are best left in the hands of the private gardener.