Agave (Asparagaceae) includes cultivated and wild varieties of henequen used for hard fibre production. As part of a breeding programme to improve Agave production, species with different ploidy levels were genetically characterized: two diploids [A. tequiliana Weber and the hybrid H11648 ((A. amaniensis Trel. & Nowell × A. angustifolia Haw.) × A. amaniensis)], a triploid (A fourcroydes Lem. var. kitam ki), a tetraploid (A. angustifolia var. letona), three pentaploids (A. fourcroydes var. sac ki, A. fourcroydes var. yaax ki, and A. sisalana Perrine), and two hexaploids (A. angustifolia var. chelem ki from two locations). Chromosome spreading was used to determine the chromosome number, flow cytometry was employed to measure the genome size, and fluorescent in situ hybridization was performed using 45S and 5S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) and the telomeric sequences (TTAGGG)n and (TTTAGGG)n as genetic markers. There were proportional increases with ploidy level of the following: (1) chromosome number (from diploid 2n = 2x = 60 to hexaploid 2n = 6x = 180), including the number of large and small chromosomes in the bimodal karyotype of Agave; (2) genome size, with a mean monoploid genome size (1Cx) of 7.5 pg (range, 7.36–7.61 pg); and (3) the number and distribution of 45S and 5S rDNA loci, with one locus of each per basic, monoploid genome. Thus there was complete additivity in genome structure with increasing ploidy, as reported in some angiosperm polyploids. However, as other analyses of polyploids have revealed a decrease in 1Cx values with increased ploidy, possible explanations for the observed genomic stability were considered. With the (TTAGGG)n probe, the signal was localized at the telomeres, consistent with published data showing that many species in the order Asparagales have this type of telomere sequence. It is speculated that sporadic telomeric signals using the (TTTAGGG)n probe are probably derived from either errors in telomerase activity or relic ancestral-type telomeric sequences. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 158, 215–222.