Agave and aloe vera are both succulent plants and are often confused with one another due to their visual similarity. But even with the numerous varieties of these genera there is a risk of confusion – just like with some other succulents.

Species-rich plant genera

Aloes and agaves are very similar succulent plants that are often confused with one another. However, they are two unrelated genera belonging to different plant families. There is a risk of confusion, especially if you want to use the edible real aloe (aloe vera) for juice or as a wound dressing – extreme caution is required here to determine whether it is actually aloe vera! Many other aloe species that are confusingly similar are actually poisonous, and most agave species are also inedible.


Agaves belong to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) within the subfamily of the agave family (Agavoideae). There are several hundred species, all of which originate in Central and South America and are not hardy here. Sometimes the species cultivated by us as pot plants are also referred to as century plants, because the plant needs several decades to develop the single flower and then – not without first forming numerous children – dies.

You can recognize agaves by these characteristics, which characterize all species:

  • sharp thorn at the tip of the leaf
  • entire leaves with more or less strong perforation
  • Leaf thinner is phased
  • fibrous, shallowly spreading roots
Note: Even agaves that are described as conditionally hardy should never be planted outside, as German winters are far too humid for them. Overwinter them as dry and frost-free as possible.


There are around 500 different types of aloe , of which aloe vera is only the best known. The genus belongs to the grass tree family (Xanthorrhoeaceae) within the subfamily of the asphodel family (Asphodeloideae). However, you can recognize the different types by these characteristic features:

  • no thorn at the leaf tip, but often more or less strong perforation of the leaf edge
  • Leaf surface often mottled white, sometimes solid green
  • when injured, brownish sap escapes from the leaves
  • Leaf interior not fibrous, but gel-like

Caution, risk of confusion!

In addition, there are some agave and aloe-like succulent plants that are also (mostly) popular as houseplants and can therefore easily be confused with one another.

Bogenhanf (Sansevieria)

The Bow Hemp– a popular, very easy to care for succulent native to the hot and dry regions of Africa – however, is sometimes confused with agaves. Both genera have thick, sessile leaves that, depending on the variety, can also be patterned and/or serrated. There are around 70 different species of scrunchie, most of which develop rigid, upright leaves. However, some, such as the popular ‘Hahnii’ forms, also develop rosettes. In contrast to the agaves, however, these Sansevierias do not develop a trunk and remain significantly narrower overall in terms of growth. The leaves are close together and grow stiffly upright. However, other varieties, such as Sansevieria zeylanica, have less fleshy leaves than similar agave species. Another difference is that

Gasterien (Gasteria)

Like aloes, gasteria belong to the botanical subfamily of the asphodel family (Asphodeloideae) and within this to the large family of grass tree plants (Xanthorrhoeaceae). Most of the 22 known species remain quite small and stemless, but some also form rosettes and are therefore easily confused with aloe vera. An important distinguishing feature between the two varieties is the size: while aloes can grow quite large, the tongue-shaped leaves of the gasteria usually do not reach more than 15 centimeters in length.

Gasteria liliputana

  • smallest Gasterien-Art
  • Leaves arranged in spiral rosettes
  • Leaves about 3 to 7 inches long
  • and up to one and a half centimeters wide
  • dark green color with white spots

Gasteria obliqua

  • commonly cultivated as a houseplant
  • tongue-shaped, slightly shiny leaves
  • Leaves up to 15 centimeters long and five centimeters wide
  • dark green in color with white spots or cross bands

Gasteria verrucosa

  • Leaves acuminate and slightly concave on top
  • up to 15 centimeters long and two centimeters wide
  • always arranged in two lines and in pairs
  • dark green coloring
  • covered with whitish, small warts


Like the aloes, the hawortia also belong to the asphodel family (Asphodeloideae) within the botanical family of the grass tree plants (Xanthorrhoeaceae). This genus is native to South Africa, but is also found in southern Namibia. There are around 160 different species, most of which remain quite small and can therefore be distinguished from the much larger aloes by their size.

Haworthia attenuata

  • basal rosette
  • Leaves dense, thick-fleshed and tapering to a point
  • blue-green coloring
  • numerous interconnected white warts
  • hence cross-banding
  • Flower stalks grow from rosette center
  • reddish colored flower clusters

Haworthia fasciata

  • Rosettes of up to 80 upright leaves
  • Leaves fleshy and slightly incurved
  • Undersides of leaves covered with whitish warts
  • entire plant up to 18 centimeters high and 15 centimeters wide

Haworthia margaritifera

  • dark green leathery leaves
  • covered with numerous whitish warts
  • very short stems
  • multipetal rosette
  • can grow up to ten centimeters high and 15 centimeters wide

Candle palm lily (Yucca gloriosa)

A plant quite similar to the agave is the candle palm lily , which is often planted in gardens and whose leaves are also arranged in rosettes. However, you can tell this species apart from the agave by its much thinner and less water-retaining leaves. Incidentally, these are probably also the reason why this palm lily species is very frost hardy in contrast to the sensitive agave plants.

Tip: The Yucca gloriosa, also known as the Spanish dagger, is a good alternative for the garden if you like agaves but cannot winter them appropriately.

Throat Leaf (Faucaria)

Faucariums are slow-growing and small succulents whose fleshy leaves form star-shaped rosettes. The leaves are always crossed in opposite pairs and fused at the base. Also typical of this genus are the bottom shoots, from which new plants can be grown. In the case of faucaria, there is a risk of confusion, especially with aloe vera, since both genera have serrated leaves with flat tops.

Faucaria tigrina

  • also known as a tiger’s mouth
  • pointed, fleshy leaves
  • Leaves only three to five centimeters long
  • at the base about two to three centimeters wide
  • bronze-green coloration with many small, whitish spots
  • strong perforation on older leaves
  • Flowers are stalkless and golden yellow

tuberculous Faucaria

  • similar to Faucaria tigrina, but with smaller leaves and flowers
  • Leaves dotted with numerous white spots and warty bumps

frequently asked Questions

Aloe leaves contain a thick gel, while agave leaves are fibrous inside. In addition, aloe leaves grow out of the center of the plant, while agave leaves always develop in the outer area. As a further distinguishing feature, agaves have a sharp thorn at the tip of the leaf, while aloes do not. However, both genera have prickly leaf edges.

Distinguishing between agave and aloe species is particularly important because most varieties of the two genera are actually poisonous, and mixing them up can have unpleasant (though not fatal) consequences. Only the blue agave or tequila agave (Agave tequilana) is used to make the Mexican national drink pulque and to make tequila.

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