The plant used to make mezcal is called agave ("ah-gah-vay") or maguey ("mah-gay"). Occasionally it is called a "Century plant" in English because it can grow to be very large and has a long life-span (not really a century, more like 25 to 30 years). Sometimes mistaken for a type of cactus, it in fact belongs to a separate family, Agavaceae
. The agave only flowers once in its lifetime, putting forth a tall stem from the center, and the plant dies after flowering. The agave that is used to make mezcal is harvested when it is seven or eight years old.