The century plant is a characteristic plant of Mexico and the Caribbean. It was brought to America by Christopher Columbus, who mistook it as aloe, like many of the chroniclers and later naturalists, is now fully naturalized in Mediterranean climate regions.
Its generic name comes from the Greek agave (admirable), and really, as Romero Zarco remarks, 'caused admiration of the Spaniards who colonized Central America and Southern US today, note that in plants whose growth seemed paralyzed for years, suddenly sprouted a colossal stem with lateral branches at the ends appeared dense inflorescences'.
The sap is obtained by fermentation of the pulque and mezcal, very common alcoholic beverages in Mexico. It is very similar to another plant also very popular and with different uses among the native inhabitants of Mexico, the maguey. The Spanish Franciscan Fray Toribio de Benavente (1490-1569), also known as Motolinía or ‘the poor’ in Nahuatl, tells in his History of the Indians of New Spain how profitable this maguey plant is- 'great virtue out of this thistle '- from which liquor is obtained, ropes and footwear are manufactured, and with which you can make paper. Writers such as Fray Toribio are fundamental to learn first-hand the properties of the flora.