Agave plants (Agave L.), with their iconic leaves and striking appearance, bring a dramatic presence and add a bold, geometrical nuance to landscape architecture in the American Southwest. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 11, agaves are well suited for the extremely arid conditions of the desert, with tough, spiny exteriors that protect their highly sought-after moisture from natural predators. Although agaves share intrinsic traits common to all succulents, such as dense fleshiness and swollen leaves, several other characteristics set them apart from other plants in their classification.

1. Check the arrangement of the leaves near the succulent’s base for a rosette pattern. A rosette refers to a layered, circular arrangement of leaves or petals emerging from a stem to protect the plant. Rosettes on succulents such as agaves result from short internodes, the part of the stem between two leaf nodes.

2 .Look for thick, stiff symmetrical leaves ranging in color from blue-gray to gray or blue to dark-blue with spiny margins that taper to a sharp point. The dark-red or black spines growing from the leaf margins are about 1/3-inch long and those growing from the tips grow to around 1/2-inch long.

3. See if the shape of the leaves fit the agave profile, which commonly grow broad, long and slender or shaped similar to a spear.

4. Remove a leaf from the succulent, bisect it with lopping shears and examine its interior for moist, fibrous tissue running throughout. As with all succulents, the fibrous tissue helps the plant tolerate drought conditions by storing water.

5. Examine the plant for inflorescence, a flowering structure with petals emerging from a typically long stem, also referred to as a mast. The agave’s mast grows several feet from its rosette, with some varieties reaching a height of up to 30 feet.

6. Note the shape and appearance of the succulent’s flowers growing from the inflorescence. Agaves grow spiked branches of yellow, cream or lime-green colored tubular flowers from their masts that grow so vigorously the plant often dies within a few days.

7. Check the base of the succulent for several root suckers, referred to as pups, growing nearby. The pups resemble small agave rosettes, and replace the plant after it dies on its own or with help from a propagating gardener.

Things You Will Need

  • Heavy-duty leather work gloves
  • Lopping shears


  • Wear heavy-duty leather work gloves when working with agave plants to avoid injury and contact with their skin-irritating sap.