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not always so easy just by looking at them, but GENERALLY speaking, Aloes have softer leaves and Agaves have thick, firm leaves. But really the best way is to look at the flowers- Aloes have bright colored flowers that usually recurr yearly (often more often) but almost all the AGaves flower once- either white or yellow (few exceptions) and that ends the plant's life. Also, AGaves are from the new world (US and Mexico, primarily) and Aloes are from AFrica primarily.