Chiefly Mexican, agaves occur also in the southern and western United States and in central and tropical South America. The plants have a large rosette of thick fleshy leaves, each ending generally in a sharp point and with a spiny margin; the stout stem is usually short, the leaves apparently springing from the root. Along with plants from the related genus Yucca, various Agave species are popular ornamental plants.
Each rosette is monocarpic and grows slowly to flower only once. During flowering a tall stem or "mast" grows from the center of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of shortly tubular flowers. After development of fruit the original plant dies, but suckers are frequently produced from the base of the stem which become new plants.
It is a common misconception that Agaves are cacti. Agaves are closely related to the lily and amaryllis families, and are not related to cacti.
Agave species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including Batrachedra striolata, which has been recorded on A shawii.