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Difference Between Agave and Aloe

Agave potatorum Agave vs Aloe
These similar looking plants are drought tolerant and they are both succulents that have pointed, fleshy leaves with spines. Although they both have similar maintenance needs and appearances, they are not even closely related to one and another. In fact, their last common ancestor is thought to have existed about 93 million years ago at the same time dinosaurs populated the Earth. They are both products of independent evolution (convergent evolution). Both Agave and Aloe are well adapted to survive in very hot and dry climates. Let’s take a closer look at these two plant’s traits. 


1. Classification

Both plants belong to the same clade and order, but different family. Agave belongs to Asparagaceae family. It is then one of the 18 genera in the subfamily Agavoideae (Agavoideae) where there are 208 separate species. Historically, there have been many changes to the classification of agave, simply because the variations within a species may be large. There are a number of agave species that are unknown origin and may simply be variants of the original species. Aloe’s taxonomic classification lies with the Asphodelaceae family, and the ashpodeloideae subfamily. Within its classification, there are over 500 different species.

Aloe marlothii

Aloe marlothii

2. Uses

Agave is mainly used for its sugar content and it can be used as a replacement for most other types of sugars. It is also used as an ornamental plant. Interestingly Agave is used in the production of rope and string. Most widely-known agave species is azul (blue agave) and it is used in the production of tequila. Aloe, on the other hand, is consumed for medicinal purposes especially aloe vera. The medical application of this plant goes back to the Middle Ages in which it was used as a laxative. Now it is primarily used in pharmaceutical manufacturing and to treat minor burns, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), lowering blood sugar, and skin care. 

3. Range and origin

The agave plant originated on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Interestingly it was used by Mayans. After the Spanish conquered Mexico, they brought the plant back to Europe where it was spread and flourished especially in Mediterranean coast. During the 19th century, the plant became increasingly popular and it was exported to various regions around the world. 

Aloe originated across the world in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula and through northern Africa. It is grown countries like Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan and the Canary, Cape Verde and Madeira Islands. Similar to Agave, Aloe was introduced to both China and Europe in the 17th century. Although they are being thrived almost everywhere in the world even as a potted plants, their charateristics remain the same. This is due to their need for similar climates. The US Department of Agriculture has indicated that in America, aloes grow well in zones 9 through 11 while agave grow well in zones 9 and 10.

4. Leaves and flowers

The leaves of both plants look very similar. Both have fleshy, pointed leaves with spines on them and they can both store water. But the internal structure of their leaves is completely different. The leaf of the agave is fibrous and a great source for producing rope and string. The leaves also have an internal vascular structure.

Aloe leaves are much different. If you take a closer look at the inside of Aloe leaves, it is more gelatinous, or gooey ,rather than a fibrous like Agave.

The spines on these both plants serve the same purpose, which is to protect them from being eaten by herbivores.

The flowers of both plants is another distinction between the two. They flower in a tubular fashion with the bloom almost looking like spikes coming out of the center of the plant. This structure, called an inflorescence, is frequently larger than the plant itself.

Aloe plants typically have flowers that are purple, red, orange, yellow, or white in color. They bloom throughout the life of the aloe plant. Some of them even bloom year-round.

Agave’s bloom is bittersweet, as most of them only bloom once in their lifetime and die shortly after.

5. Size

Agave are generally larger than aloe plants, and it ranges from about 6 inches to ten feet tall.

Aloes are generally smaller and it can even exist as a houseplant. But there are exceptions, plant like Aloe bainesii, can reach up to fifty feet tall.

6. Lifespan

The final difference between agave and aloe is their lifespan.

The aloe plant typically lives for approximately 12 years, but some Agave can live far longer, even up to 100 years. Because of this reason, the agave has a nickname of the “century plant”. But most agaves is typically around only 25 years, which is still double the life span of the aloe.

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  1. Aloe vera does indeed bloom – it require bright light in a home or greenhouse, or does so easily in its mediterranean native habitat. Some are at Londwood Gardens and other botanical gardens – also see website information at Mobot.org – the Missouri Botanic Garden.

  2. Hi! Aloes blooms easily every year, what´s more, the Aloe marlothii you have in the photo is blooming!
    The rest of the note it´s ok for me!

    See you!


  3. I agree with Brenda’s comment that Aloe Vera does bloom. Misinformation, such as in the above article, should be avoided by all means, otherwise such a nice website doesn’t look trust-worthy.

  4. i agree with both comments above- aloe vera does bloom,mine blooms yearly and they are grown in my back yard in open sun !!

  5. i have one other comment-the agave is a desert plant and in the desert water supply is scant. however, i have grown several of these plants and supplied them with sufficient water and they bloom yearly and when they bloom they do not die,as you said in your article.perhaps you may want to do some futher research for your website. !

  6. Survey says: Wrong Answer! I never do this but must in this situation.

    Aloe origin is old world- Africa, Madagascar. Agave is new world- The Americas. Think of New World Monkey compared to Old World Monkey developing differences.

    Most if not all aloes bloom yearly. Agave bloom only once spectacularly and then die within the year (monocarpic).

    If you believe your Agave has bloomed multiple times, you either have an unknown species, an aloe, or a cluster of agave that keeps propagating itself with offshoots, pups, or the fallen blooms. That is how they live on.

    Only under optimal conditions, a few agave species can live to 100 yrs.

    Some agave species can grow to 10 ft tall and 15 feet wide. However there are some species of aloe that grow over 20 feet tall.

    Tequila can be obtained and distilled from just a few agave species and the hallucinogen mescal from several others.

    Some aloe flesh is good for the skin, but many others are very toxic to humans.

    Many aloe actually also have hard sharp thorns and both come in various colors.

    Please continue research and re-write this article.

    • Mescal is liquor. Made the same as tequila but doesn’t meet all requirements to be branded tequila. Mescaline a psychoactive alkaloid comes from a cactus, peyote.

    • The myth that mezcal is a hallucinogenic is incorrect; Mezcal is made from up to 30 different species of agave, espadin, potatum and americana being amongst them, and only those grown in the 9 approved mexican zones are used. Tequila is only derived from 1 type – agave tequiliana weber – the “blue agave”.
      Mescalin, the hallucinogenic drug, is another matter intirely, and has nothing to do with mezcal, the drink.

  7. Too many errors. The author wrote without knowledge or research. I suggest you submit to peer review or delete this article.

  8. It looks like I landed on this article long after it was written. Some claims are not verified at all.
    Both plants are naturally found in Rwanda, Central Africa.You can’t convince that somebody imported it there!

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References :

[0] i.Shailes, S. (2014, May 29). Retrieved October 21, 2016 from https://plantscientist.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/the-aloes-and-the-agaves-a-case-study-of-convergent-evolution-in-plants/

[1] ii.Agave. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave

[2] Aloe. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloe

[3]iv.  The agave. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016 from http://pitaescuela.org/the-agave/

[4]iv.  The agave. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016 from http://pitaescuela.org/the-agave/

[5]v. The difference between agave and aloe plants. (n.d.). In SF Gate online. Retrieved October 21, 2016 from http://homeguides.sfgate.com/difference-between-agave-aloe-plants-26133.html

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