Agave vs. Aloe: The Great Succulent Debate

Agave and Aloe are similar in many ways, but they differ in many others. Thai Aloe Vera is an excellent example of how these plants are different. It comes from the same plant family as agave, but is more widely used today in skin care products.
A aloe vera indoors.

Agave and aloe are two of the most common succulents in the world. These plants are similar in many ways, making it hard for a common individual to spot the difference between them. In fact, most of the time, you will encounter them in big-box stores or home-improvement garden centers with inappropriate or no labels. You may buy what you didn’t intend if you can’t tell them apart.

So, what is the difference between agave and aloe plants? Agave plants tend to be larger and more upright than aloe plants, with long fleshy leaves that grow in a rosette pattern. The agave plant also has sharp spines along its edges, which makes it difficult to handle. Aloe plants usually have short, upright leaves, often spotted or striped with white bands or dots. Most don’t have spines, and their edges are rounder than agaves. Agave blooms more frequently than aloe, producing a tall stalk of flowers at the end of its life cycle when it is between five and twenty years old.

This blog post highlights the key differences between aloe and agave plants. Read on to find out everything you need to know.

Aloe & Agave Plants: Are They Distantly Related?

Although agave and aloe plants are quite different in many ways, as discussed below, it is good to mention that they were once related during prehistoric times.

Although they still look similar in many ways, these succulents come from different parts of the world today.

Most aloe plants come from Madagascar, although they have spread throughout the Mediterranean region. As the plant spread away from its native region, different varieties developed.

Aloe vera plant exposed to sunlight.
They can survive in any part of the world as long as you provide them with proper care.

Today, many forms of aloe plants thrive in relatively cooler winters, while others do well in tropical climates.

Agave originates from parts of Mexico and Central America. Most agaves are drought tolerant.

As the plant spread away from its native region, different varieties developed. Present-day agave plants have solid green leaves with varying stripes and bands of white.

Both agave and aloe plants thrive in relatively dry and sunny climates, although they can survive in any part of the world as long as you provide them with proper care. They love light, airy, and well-draining potting mix.

Differences Between Aloe & Agave Plants

Even though these succulents share many similarities, they differ in many ways. Here are some of the key differences between aloe and agave plants:

Agave vs. Aloe: Origin and Family

Both succulents are adapted to growing in arid, semi-tropical, and tropical climates. However, they are native to different parts of the world even if they share general growing conditions.

Agave plants are native to Mexico and Central America’s tropical and relatively hot regions. They are also found in parts of the Southwestern United States.

On the other hand, most aloe plants are native to Madagascar in Africa. However, it is quite impossible to dispute the assumption that these plants may have a different origin, given their ease of propagation and ability to adapt to different climates.

Agave with water droplets.
Agave belongs to the Asparagaceae family, while aloe belongs to the Xanthorrhoeaceae family.

Aloe plants can survive in almost every climate in the world.

For instance, the aloe vera plant has a massive travel history, including the Spanish explorers’ journey to South America and parts of the Caribbean.

The succulent’s medicinal use is referenced in India, China, Greek, Rome, and other parts of the world, even as the succulent continues to journey across the world.

All agave plants belong to Agave spp. Genus, while aloe plants are members of the Aloe spp. Genus.

Although both plants are classified as succulents, agave belongs to the Asparagaceae family, while aloe belongs to the Xanthorrhoeaceae family.

Agave vs. Aloe: Size & Appearance

The size and appearance of agave and aloe plants are quite different. Agave plants tend to be larger, with a rosette of leaves that can grow up to five feet in diameter.

The plant is also armed with sharp spines along its edges, which makes it difficult to handle.

Aloe plants usually have short, upright leaves often spotted with white warts. They grow to about one foot in height and are much easier to handle than agave plants.

Agave vs. Aloe: Flowering

Agave and aloe plants have quite different flowering habits, even though the flowers look alike. The key difference is in their blooming frequency.

Both succulents produce flowers on their long stalks that grow from the middle of the plant. The stalks can be of different lengths depending on the exact plant species.

However, all flowers appear in red, orange, or yellow shades.

Aloes are frequent bloomers since they are polycarpic. Typically, they produce flowers yearly during spring or summer (between December and May). The flowers are bell-shaped or tubular.

A blooming aloe vera plant.
Both succulents produce flowers on their long stalks that grow from the middle of the plant.

On the other hand, agaves are naturally monocarpic. It means that they only bloom once in their lifetime.

A typical agave plant will bloom once it is at least ten years old. Once the plant blooms, the flower is pollinated, producing seeds. The succulent dies after that.

Agave vs. Aloe: Growing Period

Agave and aloe plants also differ in their growing periods. Most agave plants tend to grow during the warm period and go dormant when the cold season kicks in.

Don’t feed your agave plant during the dormancy period to prevent potential stem or root rot.

These plants also require minimal watering during this period. Focus on giving them what is important, and don’t sweat too much over them.

Unlike agave plants, aloes grow throughout the year since they are hardy. They require regular watering throughout the growing season, but you can reduce the watering frequency when the plant enters winter or dormancy.

It will continue growing in any climate if you keep providing your aloe with what it needs.

Agave vs. Aloe: Lifespan

The lifespan of the two succulents is also quite different, with agave plants having a much longer life span than aloe plants.

Agave plants can live for as long as twenty years, while aloe plants usually only live up to five to ten years.

Agave vs. Aloe: Care & Maintenance

On care and maintenance, agave and aloe plants require similar growing conditions, but the watering requirements of each differ slightly.

Agave plants need less water than aloe plants, and they should be watered only once in three weeks. Depending on the season, aloe plants should be watered every week or two.

Repotting an aloe vera plant.
Only consider pruning your aloe plant after the flowering season to remove dead flower stalks and avoid overcrowding.

Both succulents will thrive outdoors when exposed to full sun and should be brought indoors during winter.

They grow as perennials in consistently warm areas. The desired temperature range for these plants is between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although both are relatively heavy feeders, aloe plants need more fertilizer than agave to thrive.

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Consider applying an all-purpose fertilizer to your outdoor plants in spring or early summer. Feed your indoor plants monthly with half-strength fertilizer. Water-soluble fertilizer is the perfect option.

Both of them have relatively low pruning needs. Only consider pruning your aloe plant after the flowering season to remove dead flower stalks and avoid overcrowding.

Pruning your agave plant helps reduce the potential risk of pests and increases better air circulation.

Agave vs. Aloe: Uses

Both succulents provide great drought-tolerant landscape design options with many species and cultivars available for gardening.

They form a great pairing with relatively similar care requirements. Use them to create a wonderful water-wise border that looks good year-round.

However, aloe plants also have many uses that agave plants do not. Aloe gel is a well-known natural remedy for minor burns and skin irritations, while the plant’s juice has laxative effects.

In fact, the famous aloe vera plant is a species of aloe that has been used for hundreds of years to treat different ailments. It has been listed in pharmacopeias for more than two millennia.

Agave plants can also be used in creating outdoor walkways or patios thanks to their low-maintenance nature; creating beautiful borders and hedges; and making agave syrup, a great dessert sweetener.

Agaves can be made into tequila or used in syrups and other sweetener products.

Mexico’s traditional tequila, mezcal, and spirits are made from the wonderful agave plant. Tequila is expertly crafted from the blue agave plant.

What Is a False Aloe?

In some parts of the southeastern United States, you may come across a plant commonly known as the false aloe.

It is a species of yucca that has been mistakenly identified as an aloe plant, and it should not be confused with true aloe plants.

The false aloe resembles an agave plant in some ways but has no medicinal properties found in true aloes and agaves.

A false aloe plant.
It is a species of yucca that has been mistakenly identified as an aloe plant.

The false aloe is a hardy plant often grown as an ornamental in landscapes, but it should not be confused with the true aloe used for medicinal purposes.

As such, it is more challenging to care for and maintain than true aloe plants. It needs more water than agave and prefers acidic soil.

It does not flower as often as other succulents, and its leaves are much more rigid than aloes or agaves.

Summary

Agave and aloe plants are two wonderful succulents that have unique characteristics.

They both make great additions to any garden or landscape but differ in some aspects, such as flowering habits, lifespan, growing period, and water needs. You can choose the right one for your situation after careful consideration.

Last update on 2024-02-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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