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In the 1990s, a shortage of agave posed a gloomy future for tequila distillers who were on the verge of a boom in the product's popularity. Crops had been devastated by the fusarium blight, and many independent farmers had planted alternate crops instead of agave over the previous decade. The remaining agave were in high demand. This put agave prices on an accelerating, upwards spiral that earned it the nickname, 'blue gold.'


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Updated May, 2011

The Botany of the Agave


Agave is the name of a succulent plant of a large botanical genus of the same name, belonging to the family Agavaceae. The blue agave is the only species allowed for use in tequila.


The phylogenic description is:
  • Kingdom: Plantae - Plants, Vegetal
  • Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - vascular plants
  • Division: Magnoliophyta - angiosperms (flowering plants) 
  • Class: Liliopsida - monocotyledons
  • Subclass: Liliidae
  • Order: Liliales
  • Family: Agavaceae (this includes agave, yucca and Joshua tree)
  • Genus: Agave L. - agave, all agave/maguey species
  • Species: Agave tequilana A. Weber - Mezcal azul tequilero, tequila agave

Different agave species from La CofradiaSmaller agave species may flower after only 3–4 years, while larger species may take 40–50 years. The flowers grow on a single large stalk that sprouts out of the middle of the plant and may grow up to 15 feet tall. Different agave species from La Cofradia, blue agave in backgroundAgave are native to Central and North America. They are found from Alberta, Canada in the north to Venezuela and Columbia in the south (latitudes 34N to 6S) , but grow best at higher elevations: 4,000–8,000 feet (1,220 - 2,450m) above sea level. They have been successfully exported to Africa and Europe, as well, and grow in India (source unknown, may be native).


Experts seem to disagree on exactly how many species of agave exist, but some estimate there are more than 300. One source says there are 274 recognized species in three sub-genera, seven sections and 18 series. There are over 130 species of agave that grow in Mexico alone (Gentry says 80% of all the world's species of agave reside in Mexico).


Different agave species from a field in Los AltosAgaves react dynamically to their environment. In the dry season they will pucker up to reduce the amount of surface for evaporation. In times of excess heat or sun, they will adapt the angle of their leaves to either get more sun or reduce its effects.  


To encourage pollination, some agave flowers produce musky scents that attract bats, while others produce sweet scents to attract insects.


Agave plant in ZihuatanejoThe agave used in tequila is the Agave tequilana Weber var. azul, the blue agave, and only that agave is allowed for use in tequila. Common names for this agave are chino azul, chino bermejo, maguey azul, mano larga, mescal de tequila, pato de mula, pié de mula, tequila mescal,  Schnapsagave and Tequila-Agave.


Agave or maguey?

The terms are often used interchangeably today, but in the past they were not synonymous. Generally agave refers to the plants used for tequila, as well as numerous ornamental varieties, while maguey is commonly the term for the plants used for pulque, mezcal, food or useful products.


Maguey is a common name for the plant, still used in many areas of Mexico, but probably originates from the Carib Indians from the Greater Antilles, later imported by the Spanish. Over the past 500 years, the word maguey became the term for all types of agave.


Another agave speciesThe term mescal or mezcal is sometimes still used for tequila agave, although it once meant all agave whose heads were roasted. In tequila country, maguey generally means agaves used for pulque instead of tequila.


Magueyeros are the men who make mezcal today.

Another old name for agave is henequen. Generally maguey was used for edible agave, while henequen was for plants used for fibre. Amole is the name for agave used for soap.


The Nahuatl called the plant "metl" or "mexcalmetl." One suggestion for the source of the name 'Mexica' derives from mexictli, "navel of the maguey" using the Nahuatl metl, "xictli" (navel) and the locative "co." Nahuatl called cooking the leaf and heart of the agave ' mexcalli.'





Related terms and agave species:

Agavaceae, Agave abortiva, Agave abrupta, Agave acicularis, Agave acklinicola, Agave affinis, Agave ajoensis, Agave aktites, Agave albescens, Agave albomarginata, Agave angustiarum, Agave angustifolia, Agave angustissima, Agave anomala, Agave antillarum Agave antillarum var. grammontensis, Agave applanata, Agave arizonica, Agave arubensis, Agave aspera, Agave asperrima, Agave attenuata, Agave aurea, Agave avellanidens, Agave bahamana, Agave bakeri, Agave banlan, Agave barbadensis, Agave baxteri, Agave bergeri, Agave bernhardi, Agave boldinghiana, Agave bollii, Agave botterii, Agave bouchei, Agave bourgaei, Agave bovicornuta, Agave braceana, Agave brachystachys, Agave bracteosa, Agave brandegeei, Agave brauniana, Agave breedlovei, Agave brevipetala, Agave breviscapa, Agave brevispina, Agave brittonia, Agave bromeliaefolia, Agave brunnea, Agave bulbifera, Agave cacozela, Agave cajalbanensis, Agave calderoni, Agave calodonta, Agave campanulata, Agave cantala, Agave capensis, Agave carchariodonta, Agave caribaea, Agave caribiicola, Agave carminis, Agave caroli-schmidtii, Agave celsii, Agave cernua, Agave cerulata, Agave chiapensis, Agave chihuahuana, Agave chinensis, Agave chisosensis, Agave chloracantha, Agave chrysantha, Agave chrysoglossa, Agave coccinea, Agave cocui, Agave coespitosa, Agave colimana, Agave collina, Agave colorata, Agave compacta, Agave complicata, Agave compluviata, Agave concinna, Agave congesta, Agave conjuncta, Agave connochaetodon, Agave consociata, Agave convallis, Agave corderoyi, Agave costaricana, Agave cucullata, Agave cundinamarcensis, Agave cupreata, Agave dasyliriodes, Agave datylio, Agave davilloni, Agave de-meesteriana, Agave dealbata, Agave deamiana, Agave debilis, Agave decaisneana, Agave decipiens, Agave delamateri, Agave densiflora, Agave dentiens, Agave deserti, Agave desmettiana, Agave diacantha, Agave difformis, Agave disceptata, Agave disjuncta, Agave dissimulans, Agave donnell-smithii, Agave durangensis, Agave dussiana, Agave eborispina, Agave eduardi, Agave eggersiana, Agave ehrenbergii, Agave eichlami, Agave ekmani, Agave elizae, Agave ellemeetiana, Agave endlichiana, Agave engelmanni, Agave entea, Agave erosa, Agave evadens, Agave excelsa, Agave expansa, Agave expatriata, Agave falcata, Agave felgeri, Agave felina, Agave fenzliana, Agave ferdinandi-regis, Agave filifera, Agave flaccida, Agave flaccifolia, Agave flavovirens, Agave flexispina, Agave fortiflora, Agave fourcroydes , Agave fragrantissima, Agave franceschiana, Agave franzosini, Agave friderici, Agave funifera, Agave funkiana, Agave galeottei, Agave garciae-mendozae, Agave geminiflora, Agave gentryi, Agave ghiesbrechtii, Agave glabra, Agave glaucescens, Agave goeppertiana, Agave glomeruliflora, Agave gracilipes, Agave gracilis, Agave grandibracteata, Agave granulosa, Agave grenadina, Agave grijalvensis, Agave grisea, Agave guadalajarana, Agave guatemalensis, Agave guedeneyri, Agave guiengola, Agave gutierreziana, Agave guttata, Agave gypsophila, Agave hanburii, Agave harrisii, Agave hartmani, Agave haseloffii, Agave hauniensis, Agave havardiana, Agave haynaldi, Agave henriquesii, Agave hexapetala, Agave hiemiflora, Agave hookeri, Agave horizontalis, Agave horrida, Agave houghii, Agave huachucaensis, Agave huehueteca, Agave humboldtiana, Agave hurteri, Agave impressa, Agave inaequidens, Agave inaguensis, Agave indagatorum, Agave ingens, Agave inopinabilis, Agave integrifolia, Agave intermixta, Agave intrepida, Agave isthmensis, Agave jaiboli, Agave jarucoensis, Agave karatto, Agave kellermaniana, Agave kerchovei, Agave kewensis, Agave kirchneriana, Agave lagunae, Agave langlassei, Agave laticincta, Agave latifolia, Agave laurentiana, Agave laxa, Agave laxifolia, Agave lecheguilla, Agave lemairei, Agave lempana, Agave lespinassei, Agave lindleyi, Agave littaeaoides, Agave longipes, Agave longisepala, Agave lophantha, Agave lurida, Agave macrantha, Agave macroacantha, Agave macroculmis, Agave maculata, Agave madagascariensis, Agave mapisaga, Agave margaritae, Agave marginata, Agave marmorata, Agave martiana, Agave maximiliana, Agave maximowicziana, Agave mayoensis, Agave mckelveyana, Agave medio-picta, Agave medioxima, Agave megalacantha, Agave melanacantha, Agave melliflua, Agave mexicana, Agave micracantha, Agave millspaughii, Agave minarum, Agave mirabilis, Agave missionum, Agave mitis, Agave monostachya, Agave montana, Agave montserratensis, Agave moranii, Agave morrisii, Agave muilmanni, Agave mulfordiana, Agave multifilifera, Agave multiflora, Agave multilineata, Agave murpheyi, Agave oaxacensis, Agave nashii, Agave nayaritensis, Agave neglecta, Agave nelsoni, Agave nevadensis, Agave nevidis, Agave newberyi, Agave nickelsi, Agave nissoni, Agave nizandensis, Agave noli-tangere, Agave obducta, Agave oblongata, Agave obscura, Agave ocahui, Agave offoyana, Agave oligophylla, Agave oliverana, Agave opacidens, Agave orcuttiana, Agave ornithobroma, Agave oroensis, Agave ovatifolia, Agave oweni, Agave pachyacantha, Agave pachycentra, Agave pacifica, Agave pallida, Agave palmaris, Agave palmeri, Agave pampaniniana, Agave panamana, Agave papyriocarpa, Agave parryi, Agave parvidentata, Agave parviflora, Agave patonii, Agave paucifolia, Agave paupera, Agave pavoliniana, Agave peacockii, Agave pedrosana, Agave pedunculifera, Agave pelona, Agave perplexans, Agave pes-mulae, Agave petiolata, Agave petrophila, Agave phillipsiana, Agave picta, Agave planera, Agave polianthiflora, Agave polianthoides, Agave portoricensis, Agave potatorum, Agave potosina, Agave potrerana, Agave prainiana, Agave promontorii, Agave prostrata, Agave protamericana, Agave protuberans, Agave pruinosa, Agave pseudotequilana, Agave pugioniformis, Agave pulcherrima, Agave pulchra, Agave pumila, Agave punctata, Agave purpurea, Agave purpusorum, Agave pygmae, Agave quadrata, Agave quiotifera, Agave ragusae, Agave rasconensis, Agave regia, Agave revoluta, Agave rhodacantha, Agave rigida, Agave roezliana, Agave rudis, Agave rupicola, Agave rutteniae, Agave rzedowskiana, Agave salmdyckii, Agave salmiana, Agave samalana, Agave sartorii, Agave scaphoidea, Agave scaposa, Agave scheuermaniana, Agave schildigera, Agave schneideriana, Agave schottii, Agave scolymus, Agave sebastiana, Agave seemanniana, Agave serrulata, Agave sessiliflora, Agave shafer, Agave shawii, Agave shrevei, Agave sicaefolia, Agave simony, Agave sisalana, Agave sleviniana, Agave smithiana, Agave sobolifera, Agave sobria, Agave sordida, Agave striata, Agave stricta, Agave stringens, Agave subinermis, Agave subsimplex, Agave subtilis, Agave subzonata, Agave sullivani, Agave tecta, Agave tenuifolia, Agave tenuispina, Agave teopiscana, Agave tequilana, Agave terraccianoi, Agave theometel, Agave thomasae, Agave thomsoniana, Agave tigrina, Agave titanota, Agave todaroi, Agave toneliana, Agave tortispina, Agave toumeyana, Agave troubetskoyana, Agave tubulata, Agave underwoodii, Agave unguiculata, Agave utahensis, Agave van-grolae, Agave vandervinneni, Agave ventum-versa, Agave vernae, Agave verschaffeltii, Agave vestita, Agave vicina, Agave victoriae-reginae, Agave vilmoriniana, Agave viridissima, Agave vivipara, Agave vizcainoensis, Agave wallisii, Agave warelliana, Agave washingtonensis, Agave watsoni, Agave weberi, Agave weingartii, Agave wendtii, Agave wercklei, Agave wiesenbergensis, Agave wightii, Agave wildingii, Agave winteriana, Agave wislizeni, Agave wocomahi, Agave woodrowi, Agave wrightii, Agave xylonacantha, Agave yaquiana, Agave yuccaefolia, Agave zapupe, Agave zebra, Agave zonata, Agave zuccarinii, American aloe, Arizona agave, Arizona century plant, bald agave, blue agave, Cantala, century plant, Chisos mountain century plant, coastal agave, corita, cow's horn agave, desert agave, desert century plant, dragon tree agave, drunkard agave, dwarf century plant, dwarf octopus agave, eggers' century plant, chisos agave, false sisal, foxtail agave, golden flowered agave, golden flower century plant, hardy century plant, Havard's century plant, henequen, hohokam agave, ixtle de jaumave, leather agave, Lecheguilla, little princess agave, maguey, Maguey bandeado, Maguey chato, Maguey del Bravo, Maguey de Desierto, Maguey de Havard, Maguey de la India, Maguey de montaña, Maguey de pastizal, Maguey de Sisal, Maguey de tlalcoyote, Maguey diente de tiburn, Maguey Henequen, Maguey lechuguilla, Maguey liso, Maguey mezortillo, Maguey pajarito, Maguey primavera, Maguey spero, Maguey sbari, Mckelvey Agave, McKelvey's century plant, Mescal ceniza, Mescalito, Mexican Sisal, Mezcal azul tequilero, Mezcal yapavai, Murphey Agave, Murphey's century plant, Octopus Agave, Palmer Agave, Palmer century plant, Palmer's century plant, Parry Agave, Parry's Agave, Puerto Rico century plant, Pulque, Queen Victoria's Agave, Rough Century Plant, Smallflower agave, smallflower century Plant, Schott Agave, Schott's Century Plant, Sisal, Sisal Hemp, Shindagger, Smooth Agave, Squid Agave, St. Croix agave, Slimfoot century plant, Swan's Neck Agave, Tequila, Tequila Agave, Thorncrest century plant, Thread-leaf agave, Toumey agave, Toumey's century plant, Utah agave, Weber agave, Weber blue agave, Weber's century plant, wild century plant.

Agave name list from Natural Standard



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