AGAVACEAE      AGAVE FAMILY

INTRODUCTION:  Members of the family Agavaceae are monocots adapted to warm, dry areas.  The plants often have a rosette of leaves and produce rhizomes.  Some, for example the century plant, grow vegetatively for many years, then flower and die.  Suckers develop from the dying plant and start the growth cycle over again.  Sissal and hemp are grown for fiber and some plants produce a sap from which mescal, tequila and pulque are made.  Some botanists feel that the Agavaceae is not a true family, but put the members of this family in the Amaryllidaceous and the Liliaceae.  We will treat the Agavaceae as a family and study the members of this family at the same time that we study the Liliaceae. 
 The common name for members of the genus Agave is the century plant or agave. This genus has many species that are used as house plants.  Some have toothed edges to their long, pointed leaves and others are armed with one or more spines on the leaves.  Some agaves are excellent landscape plants and some become very large in container culture. 
 The genus Beaucarnea is the ponytail plant or ponytail palm.  These plants have long, thin strap-like leaves arising from a stem that sits atop a very large, bulbous expanded base. 
 Cordyline terminalis is the Hawaiian ti plant.  It has long cane-like stems with attractive foliage in a rosette at the top.  The leaves are usually variegate with streaks or spots of red pigment. 
 Many popular members of the Agavaceae are in the genus DracaenaDracaena fragransMassangeana’, the corn plant is probably the best known.  The plants have dark green, corn-like leaves coming off the thick, cane-like stems.  There are many white and yellow variegated leaf patterns exhibited by other cultivars within this species.   
 Plants in the genus Sansevieria are often called bowstring hemp due to the very strong, long fibers that can be extracted from their leaves.  This genus has several popular house plants.  Most are in the species Sansevieria trifasciata, for example the Mother-in-Law’s tongue or snake plant.  This popular house plant has several forms, ranging from plants with leaves a few inches long to plants with leaves 1 to 3 feet long.  The leaves have many variegated patterns and may include vertical or horizontal bands of white or yellow.  Stems of this species are very short, creeping as rhizomes below the soil surface.  Many of the vertically variegated plants are best propagated from division to maintain the color pattern of the leaves. 

General Care of  Agaves:
 

temperature: Plants in this family tolerate hot temperatures but will grow well at common room temperatures.
medium:  A well-drained medium with adequate sand or other coarse material to promote drainage and give the medium weight since many of these plants become very top-heavy.  The mixes for succulents given above would be good for the members of this family. 
water: Water thoroughly but allow the medium to dry between waterings.  Dracaenas often develop burned tips to their leaves if given water with fluoride in it. 
light: Although they will survive and grow slowly under lower light intensities, most of these plants produce bright colors under brighter light. 
fertilization: Fertilize sparingly to reduce the rate of growth.  Plants often respond poorly under high levels of fertilization. 
pests and problems: Relatively pest free, but mealy bugs can be a serious problem.
grooming: Remove old, discolored leaves. 
propagation: Separation of suckers, division of rhizomes, stem cuttings, leaf or leaf section cuttings, and seed are all practiced as methods of propagation of the Agavaceae.

 

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