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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/229

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225
THE CENTURY PLANT

more commonly, rootstocks of the so-called herbaceous species, for use as vegetable soap; the claim has recently been made that the sap from henequen leaves in process of cleaning can be converted into a valuable glue; and from the time of the Aztecs innumerable domestic uses have been found for one part or another of these interesting plants.

So far as inference may go, it was none of the agaves of the earlier discovered West Indies or Yucatan which was first taken across the water, in small specimens for gardeners to care for and grow into some semblance to their native form and size, but one or more species from Mexico proper, to illustrate the wonderful 'metl' of that land. The importation may have been made very soon after the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, but I find no record concerning it. It is even questionable what species was actually first taken over. The first tangible record of an Agave in Europe is given by Clusius, a Belgian botanist who, PSM V70 D229 Willing to be photographed.pngFig. 18. Willing to be photographed. traveling through Spain somewhat more than a generation after the conquest of Mexico, found an aloe of this kind sparingly cultivated at Valencia, where he obtained offsets which he took home, and one of which he figured in 1576. While this first picture probably represents A. Americana, as it is usually supposed to do, it must be admitted that it resembles also the common pulque maguey of the table-land, even then an important plant, but which is not known to have been in European gardens before the middle of the century just closed. In 1586 an American aloe flowered at Florence, and was figured by Camerarius two years later. This picture is less questionable than that of Clusius, as representing what we now call the century plant, but it might possibly stand for what, a century later, was grown in Dutch gardens as the broader-leaved aloe from Vera Cruz—now known as Agave Vera Cruz or the synonym A. lurida. The reported escape of the latter species in central Italy lends some support to this surmise; but the picture can not be said not to represent A. Americana, the wide-spread naturalization of which through the Mediterranean countries seems to indicate conclusively that, whichever may have been introduced first, it was really the century plant that was first extensively propagated in Europe.

The agaves have been esteemed as garden curiosities ever since their