Utah Century Plant

Genus Agave
Agave Family (Agavaceae)





An Agave plant growing on a rocky hillside


Utah Century Plant
(Agave utahensis)

The century plant (or Agave) lives for most of its life as a rosette of large thick leaves. Each leaf has a sharp spine at the tip, and smaller spines along the edges.

A century plant takes several years to mature (but not a century -- only around 15 or 20 years) before it finally develops its very tall and fast growing flower stalk. Some species of century plant have a flower stalk that is up to 18 feet tall. The Utah century plant is smaller -- only about 12 feet in height.

After it blossoms and produces seeds, the plant dies. New plants (clones) often spring up from the spreading roots of the original one.



Native Americans utilized many parts of the agave plant. The leaves are very nutritious. They were roasted, then cut into smaller pieces. These taste somewhat like yams. When dried, they can be stored for long periods of time.

The tough fibers of the plant were used for ropes and cords. Alcoholic beverages (mescal, pulque, and tequila) are fermented from the sap. Pulque is the national drink of Mexico.

Linnaeus named the agave plant and its family from a Greek word meaning "noble".



Flowering stalk of an Agave plant




Along Highway I-15
Southwest of St. George
Washington County, Utah


References


Photographed
by Sandra Bray