The Difference Between Yuccas and Agaves

Natives of Mexico and the American Southwest, both Yucca and Agave plants belong to the family of Agavaceae. Their leaves grow in a spiral pattern out from the centre forming a ‘rosette’ structure.

One of the differences between the two is that over time Yuccas will grow taller whereas the Agave only gets bigger.

This Yucca was growing in the hot dry climate of the Saguaro National Park in Arizona – that’s a Saguaro cactus peeking out of the bottom left.Yucca tree in Arizona, USAThis ancient Agave is in amongst the ruins of a church in Zacatecas, Mexico.Ancient agave in amongst the ruins of a church in Zacatecas, MexicoYuccas are less fleshy than Agaves and generally less spiny.

The rosette structure of a Yucca as seen from the side.Yucca in the gardens of Las Brisas in Huatalco, MexicoAgaves are fleshy enough that the imprint of each leaf is seen on the others.Cactus 'Agave' in the Hortus Gardens in Amsterdam, HollandYuccas survive in colder wetter climates than the Agaves.

This is a drawing of a Yucca in Vancouver where the winters are relatively mild and considerably wetter than Arizona.pencil sketch of a Yucca bloomAgaves thrive in their native land, the hot dry climate of the American Southwest and Mexico. This region of the state of Jalisco has fields and fields of Agaves azules, the source of agave nectar that will be distilled into tequila.
a field of agave azul
Yuccas typically bloom every year with bell-shaped blossoms while many Agaves bloom only once and then die, and the flower has a very different shape.

Yucca’s bell-shaped flowers.Agave Blossom Painted in WaterlogueAn old botanical illustration of agave flowers.Etching of the Century Plant (Agave)Agave sisalana flowers
HDR Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden poster in SnapseedThe Yucca ‘group’ features about 40 species, whereas the Agaves number around 300 species.

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