Distinguishing the difference between aloe and agave can be tough! These two beautiful plants have very similar looks, but with more attention to detail, you can learn how to tell these two beauties apart and properly care for them.
The similar look of these plants is because they are both native to hot and dry climates, but they are not closely related! They are native to totally different hemispheres of the world. Yes, literally TOTALLY different hemispheres – AKA these bbs come from opposite parts of the world.
In short, agave is typically larger with sharp spines on their leaves, however, aloe vera leaves have a serrated edge, but they are not sharp. The leaves of an agave plant are fibrous, whereas aloe leaves are fleshy, thick, and filled with a clear gel. FUN FACT: They are both succulents.
You’ve read that these bbs come from different parts of the world and with similar climates. Aloe and agave are both native to growing in tropical, semitropical, and dry climates.
Agaves, AKA a “New World” plant, are originally from the tropical, hot, and dry parts of the Americas and the Southwestern United States. Today you can find agave all the way from Utah into the northern parts of South America. They grow in deserts, dry grasslands, and oak-pine woodlands.
Aloe, AKA an “Old Word” plant, is native to sub-Saharan Africa, the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar. Aloe Vera also spread all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean and South Africa. While you can find Aloe growing wild in the United States, those ones were brought here as an introduced species, not a native plant.
Agave grows in the USDA Plant Hardiness zones 9 and 10, some varieties of the plant are more tolerant to heat or cold than others. This hardy plant can tolerate full sun and grows well anywhere in between zones 9 and 11. They prefer to have some shade during the sun’s strongest times of the day. Both can grow well in well-draining sandy or rocky soil.
Want to learn more about the origin of succulents? Read our blog about the History and Origin of Succulents!
Once you know what to look for, you can easily distinguish between these two similar-looking plants.
Every variety of agave grows its leaves in the shape of a rosette with sharp thorns and a sharp upright center margin. If you cut a leaf open and look inside, you will find it is very fibrous and not gel-like or gooey. The color of agave can range from green, blue-green, grayish-green, and variegated or spotted in shades of cream, gold, or yellow.
Agave plants’ tall blooms are bittersweet. They’re gorgeous and eye-catching but also signal that the plant’s life has come to an end. Yep, after Agave blooms, it will die, but the mother plant does produce a bunch of baby succs in her place.
Agave plants can grow anywhere from 1 foot to over 20 feet tall! When mature, these bbs are much larger than aloe plants.
Similar to the agave, an aloe plant grows a rosette made of thick and fleshy leaves, ranging from green to greenish-blue leaves sometimes having white speckles. An aloe plant will have a small teeth-like serrated edge. Where agave is fibrous on the inside; when you cut open an aloe plant there is a clear gel substance inside.
You’ll see aloe bloom in the summer, growing a tall stalk that is lined with yellow flowers. Aloe plants will continue to grow and thrive after blooming, unlike the agave. They can bloom again season after season! Baby aloe plants will grow around the mother plant, appearing as offshoots that can then be cut and propagated.
At the peak of aloe maturity, they can grow from 1 to 3 feet tall.
PRO TIP: It is all about looking at the leaves when telling the difference between agave and aloe. Agave leaves are thinner and very fibrous compared to the thick fleshy leaves of aloe. If you touch the plants you’ll know instantly when you feel the hard thorns of agave.
Agave and Aloe Plant Uses
You may already be familiar with the uses of these plants! Agave is edible and the plant’s sap is called “augamiel,” meaning honey water in Spanish. The ancient indigenous people of Southwestern America used agave as their main food source. Tequila fans put your hands up! Many know of agave because tequila is produced from the blue agave plant.
Aloe has been known for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. It is believed to treat many medical conditions and is often used in cosmetic products, like sunscreen. You can even find aloe as an ingredient in foods like yogurt and some beverages.
Considering these two gorgeous succs originate from very similar climates, their care instructions are the same. They are very low-maintenance and incredibly drought tolerant, making them a great choice for first-time plant owners! Aloe is known to be toxic to animals, agave is not listed as toxic to animals on many sites, but it is always best to keep animals away from plants.
Both plants prefer a well-draining cactus soil and to be planted in a pot with a drainage hole. DO NOT grow these bbs in soil that retains water and stays soil or they can easily rot. Agave and aloe need plenty of light to grow well, if they do not get enough sun the plants will become leggy. They need consistently warm conditions with a temperature between 60-85 degrees F
If you choose to keep the plants outside, be sure to bring them in during colder months. When incorporating these plants into your landscaping, note that they will not require much water, every few weeks should be enough. So, make sure you aren’t planting them near any sprinkler heads or other plants with more frequent watering needs. If you grow them in a pot, wait for the soil to completely dry in between watering. Too much water is the quickest way to kill an aloe or agave plant.
Get out there and test your knowledge! If you live in an area that grows both agave and aloe drive around and see if you can spot the difference between the plants.