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Agave utahensis - Engelm.

Common Name Century Plant
Family Asparagaceae
USDA hardiness 6-10
Known Hazards The plants have a very sharp and tough spine at the tip of each leaf. They need to be carefully sited in the garden. In theory at least, the flowers, nectar, immature flowering stem and the centre of the rosette of all Agave species is edible and, with proper preparation, can provide a sweet, tasty foodstuff. Some species, however, contain relatively high levels of saponins (which makes them taste bitter) and some other compounds which can cause bellyache, and so these would only be eaten in times of desperation. In addition, many people may find these foods to be strongly laxative the first few times they eat them[1846 ].
Habitats Dry stony limestone slopes, at elevations from 600 - 2,280 metres[71 , 338 ]. Calcareous or sandstone outcrops in desert scrub, pinyon-juniper, or conifer woodlands; at elevations from 700 - 2,500 metres[1844 ].
Range South-western N. America - California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Agave utahensis Century Plant

Stan Shebs Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Agave utahensis Century Plant
Stan Shebs Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0


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Agave utahensis is an evergreen, stemless, succulent plant forming a compact rosette of leaves that can be 15 - 60cm tall and 25 - 100cm in diameter. Around 70 - 80 leaves are produced on mature plants, each of which can be 15 - 50cm long and 2 - 3cm wide near the base. After several years of growth, a flowering stem that can be around 170 - 400cm tall is produced, after which the rosette will die. However, the plant usually produces a number of young plants around its base that will develop as new plants[1844 ]. The Agave genus, belonging to the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae), includes various species such as Goldenflower Agave, Desert Agave, Palmer’s Agave, Parry’s Agave, and Utah Agave. These plants are historically significant as food sources for Native Americans, who consumed their caudices (crowns, heads, or hearts), flower stalks, flower buds, flowers, and seeds. While these parts are edible, extensive preparation is needed to reduce saponins and irritating soap-like compounds in all of the agave—traditional preparation involves baking the parts in fire pits, enhancing their flavour and texture. The crowns and flower stalks are the most valuable, often baked and consumed immediately or stored for later use. Agave syrup can also be made from the baked crowns. Agave flowers and seeds are generally not suitable for consumption due to their acrid taste and the presence of potentially harmful compounds. Dislodging agave plants and removing their leaves is labour-intensive, requiring tools like a sharp axe. Agave blooms in late spring to early summer, and its flowers, while not ideal for human consumption, play an essential role in the ecosystem, supporting wildlife. Some agave species are protected, and their collection may be restricted to ensure conservation [2-3].

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Agave utahensis is an evergreen Perennial growing to 2 m (6ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 7. The flowers are pollinated by Moths, Bats.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Homotypic Synonyms A. haynaldii var. utahensis (Engelm.) N.Terracc. Accepted Infraspecifics: A. utahensis var. eborispina (Hester) Breitung A. utahensis subsp. kaibabensis (McKelvey) Gentry A. utahensis var. nevadensis Engelm. ex Greenm. & Roush A. utahensis subsp. utahensis.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

The plant's heart is rich in saccharine matter and can be eaten when baked[2, 46, 61, 105, 177 ]. Sweet and delicious, but rather fibrous[213 ]. It is partly below ground. It can be dried for future use or soaked in water to produce a flavourful beverage[183 ]. Seed - ground into a flour[85, 161 ]. Flower stalk - roasted[183 ]. Root - cooked[183 ]. Sap from the cut flowering stems is used as a syrup[177 ]. The sap can also be tapped by boring a hole into the middle of the plant at the base of the flowering stem[213 ]. It can be fermented into 'Mezcal', a potent alcoholic drink[213 ]. Mezcal is a distilled drink, made from the baked hearts of the agave plant. The fermented sap mentioned above is more commonly called 'pulque' in Mexico, where it is commonly produced from several Agave species and has a much lower alcohol content[K ]. WARNING: Some species of the genus may be protected. Several Agave species have edible parts such as caudices, flower stalks, buds, flowers, and seeds, but preparation is key. Agave crowns and flower stalks are most valued, traditionally baked, to reduce bitterness and improve flavour. Harvest when flower stalks emerge, but beware of excessive soap-like compounds called saponins in some species. Agave flowers and seeds have limited edibility and are often unpleasant in taste. Harvesting and processing require caution, especially regarding potential toxicity. Traditionally, Native Americans baked agave flower stalks and crowns overnight in fire pits before consumption [2-3].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

The sap is antiseptic, diuretic and laxative[21 ]. The plant contains steroidal saponins which are under research for use in the treatment of certain cancers[338 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

The leaves contain saponins and an extract of them can be used as a soap[2 ]. It is best obtained by chopping up the leaves and then simmering them in water - do not boil for too long or this will start to break down the saponins[K ]. A very strong fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making rope, coarse fabrics etc[2 , 61 , 92 ]. To make hair brushes and brushes for cleaning, the dried matter of a dead and rotten leaf was knocked free from the fibres, which were then bent in two. the upper end of this brush was wrapped with a cord and the bent portion was covered with a cloth. The loose fibres were cut to the right length and hardened by burning the ends[257 ]. A paper can also be made from the fibre in the leaves[2 ]. The thorns on the leaves are used as pins and needles[2 ]. The dried flowering stems are used as a waterproof thatch[2 ] and as a razor strop[89 ].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agave utahensis is a native of arid and semi-arid climates. Plants are only hardy in the milder areas of the temperate zone, and even then, need to be sited carefully to prevent rot from excessive moisture. They generally grow well in Mediterranean climates. Plants from northern and/or high-elevation populations of ssp. utahensis, ssp. kaibabensis and var. eborispina may tolerate temperatures between -21 to -29°c and survive outdoors in central Europe nearly without rain protection[1844 ]. Plants also experience snow in their native environment, though this can have the effect of insulating their base and roots from the cold[K ]. Requires very well-drained soil and a sunny position[1, 200 ]. Agave species are monocarpic, individual plants living for several years without flowering, sending up an often very large stem, and dying after flowering and setting seed. The plants of most species, however, normally produce several new plants from suckers during their lifespan, and these new plants will continue the life cycle. Over time, some plants can form extensive clonal colonies by this means[11 ]. Individual plants take about 7 - 15 years in their native habitat, considerably longer in colder climates, before flowering[11 ]. This plant is widely used by native people in its wild habitat and has a wide range of uses. Members of this genus are rarely troubled by browsing deer[233 ]. Harvesting involves dislodging the plants, often requiring significant effort and sharp tools. Agave crowns can be gathered anytime but were traditionally collected when flower stalks emerged. Harvesting emerging flower stalks indicates the ideal time for collection. Agave leaves are tough and spiny, making extraction of crowns challenging. Baked crowns can be consumed immediately or stored for future use. Additionally, agave syrup can be made by adding water to baked crowns and boiling them down. Harvesting and processing agave seeds is relatively easy, but caution is advised due to limited safety data and the potential for acrid compounds.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - surface sow in a light position, mid-spring in a warm greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 3 months at 15 - 20°c[133 , 200 ]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of well-drained soil when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a sunny position in the greenhouse until they are at least 15cm tall. Plant out at the beginning of the growing season, and give some protection from the cold for at least their first few winters[K ]. Offsets and suckers can be potted up at any time they are available. Keep in a warm greenhouse until they are well established[200 ]. Bulbils, where produced, are an easy method of propagation. Simply pot them up and plant out at the beginning of a growing season when they are 10cm or more tall.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Utah agave

Native to: Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Least Concern

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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