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Difference Between Agave and Aloe

Agave potatorum Agave vs Aloe
The two plants commonly known as aloe and agave are very similar. They are both succulents that have pointed, fleshy leaves with spines. They look quite similar to one another, but they are actually not even closely related. 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).i For this reason, there are actually many differences between the two.

1. Classification

Both plants belong to the same clade and order, but they differ from the family on. Agave is of the 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 and there are a number of agave species that are of unknown origin and may simply be variants of the original species.ii 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 can be used as a replacement for most other types of sugars. It is also used as an ornamental plant and in the production of rope and string, but perhaps its most widely-known used for agave is with the species agave azul, or blue agave. This plant is used in the production of tequila. Aloe, on the other hand, is rarely consumed and is known for its medicinal purposes. This is especially true of its most famous species, 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.i

3. Range and origin

The agave plant originated on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, where even the ancient Mayans used it. After the Spanish conquered Mexico, they brought the plant back to Europe where it spread and flourished especially well on the Mediterranean coast. During the 19th century, the plant became increasingly popular and was exported to various other regions around the world.ii Currently, it is grown in at least one location on every continent in the world, except Antarctica. Aloe originated across the world in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula and through northern Africa, including the countries that are now known as Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan and the Canary, Cape Verde and Madeira Islands. It was introduced to both China and Europe in the 17th century and like agave, it is now grown in at least one region of every continent save Antarctica. The spots in which each plant thrives on the different continents is typically similar. 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 agaves grow well in zones 9 and 10.iii

4. Leaves and flowers

The leaves of both plants look very similar in that they have fleshy, pointed leaves with spines on them and they can both store water. But that is where the similarities end as the internal structure of their leaves is completely different. The leaf of the agave is fibrous, which is what makes it a good plant for producing rope and string. The leaves also have an internal vascular structure and they often its entire lifetime. Aloe leaves are much different. On the inside, rather than a fibrous, vascular system, there is gelatinous, or gooey, interior.iv The spines on both plants are there to protect them from being eaten by herbivores.

The flowers of both plants is another distinction between the two. Both of them 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 and they bloom throughout the life of the aloe plant.v 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.vi

5. Size

Likely one of the first physical differences that is noticed between agave and aloe is going to be the size difference. Agave are generally larger than aloe plants, and range from about 6 inches to ten feet tall. Aloes are generally smaller and can usually even exist as a houseplant, however, there are exceptions including the Aloe bainesii, which can reach up to fifty feet tall.vii

6. Lifespan

The final difference between agave and aloe is perhaps the most remarkable in that there is a huge difference between the lifespan of each. The aloe plant typically lives for approximately 12 years. This is in contrast to the agave, which can live far longer than that, even up to 100 years. For this reason, the agave has a nickname of the “century plant”. Despite this, the life span of most agaves is typically around only 25 years, which is still double the life span of the aloe.viii

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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.

  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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