Growing Agave Potatorum Plants: How To Care For Butterfly Agave

Agave potatorum [a-GAH-vee, poh-tuh-TOR-um] is a perennial succulents belonging to the family Asparagaceae (Century Plant).

This plant hails from Mexico in the semi-arid highlands found between Puebla and Oaxaca.

You may hear it called by its common names including:

  • Butterfly Agave
  • Drunkard Agave

Butterfly Agave Potatorum

The plant’s specific name or epithet, A. potatorum is derived from the Latin, potator.

This means “of the drinkers” and refers to the general use of Agave to make alcoholic beverages.

Some species variations you may have seen include:

  • Verschaffeltii
  • Variegata
  • Kissho Kan
  • Kichiokan

Agave Potatorum Care

Size and Growth

This slow-growing small Agave plant tends to grow alone.

The plant attains a maximum height of 2′ feet.

If kept as a potted plant, it’s very easy to control the size.

This plant has very thick, sturdy leaves which grow in a symmetrical rosette pattern.

The leaves have lateral, creamy-colored variegations.

Leaves may be blue-grey, pale green or green variegated with yellow.

Individual leaves may reach 18″ inches long and vary in shape.

Each leaf is tipped with a rather menacing chestnut-brown spine.

In addition to the 1″ inch terminal spine, the leaves also are edged with short marginal spines, which are sometimes called “teeth“ on tubercle-like prominences.

Flowering and Fragrance

This monocarpic Agave produces clusters of green or yellow flowers atop a tall stalk.

The flower spike can grow up to 20′ feet high bearing light green flowers.

These flowers may have tinges of red and be subtended with red bracts.

Agave potatorum is a part of a group of succulents known as Hiemiflorae.

These types of plants produce tight balls or clusters of flowers on very short, lateral branches.

These agaves typically bloom in the winter, but Agave potatorum is an early bloomer.

Expect blossoms in autumn and into the wintertime.

Flowering will begin in September and cease in December.

When kept outdoors, the flowers of this interesting plant provide sustenance to pollinators such as hummingbirds, sunbirds, moths, and bats.

Light and Temperature

This desert dweller is quite easy to grow, but it’s not as tolerant of cold as some other Agave species.

It’s important to remember this particular species is a tropical succulent.

Warm temperatures and lots of sunlight are required in order for Agave potatorum to thrive.

It’s winter hardy outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9B to 10.

The plant does very well in full sun except in areas where the afternoon sun is punishing.

In this case, a partial sun setting with afternoon shade is advised.

This will help prevent scorched leaves.

When temperatures drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C), the plant will transition into a semi-dormant state.

This species of Agave can tolerate brief frosts, but extended freezes will kill the plant.

Watering and Feeding

As with all succulents, resist the urge to water frequently.

Instead, provide the plant with a slow, deep watering only after the soil has dried out completely.

Never water from overhead.

When winter arrives, and the plant begins to go semi-dormant, you should not water at all unless the leaves begin to roll up.

Then water sparingly.

These plants can tolerate low humidity but prefer higher humidity.

If kept as an indoor plant, an occasional misting is desirable.

Remember not to fertilize monocarpic plants because fertilizing will stimulate the plant to bloom.

When this happens, the plant will die.

Instead, top off the substrate with fresh cactus or succulent mix annually.

Soil and Transplanting

As with all Agave and most succulents, you must use a well-draining, sandy succulent potting soil mix.

Seek out mixtures specially designed for use with succulents and cactus, or make your own mixture.

The simplest recipe is a 50/50 mix of standard potting soil with coarse play sand.

Remember to avoid potting mixes containing any moisture retaining ingredients.

You want sharp drainage.

You should not need to repot your Agave frequently.

This species is very slow-growing, and like most Agave it prefers to be a bit pot bound.

Furthermore, Agave does not like to be handled much.

It’s best to choose the pot you want to keep your plant in and then keep it there.

Work fresh cactus or succulent potting mixture into the soil early in the spring to provide your plant with a little bit more nourishment and to replenish compacted and consumed soil.

Grooming and Maintenance

This species of Agave needs very little care.

If the plant produces suckers during its lifetime, you’ll want to remove them and put them into their pots or placements to keep the parent plant looking tidy.

After your plant blooms, cut away the stalk and the dead parent plant and allow suckers to grow.

Throughout the life of the plant, you’ll naturally want to remove dead leaves as they occur.

Mist the plant occasionally and wipe with a clean, dry cloth to help leaves look their best.

How To Propagate Butterfly Agave

Whenever the plant produces an offset, you have a new Agave potatorum.

Watch for this and remove them carefully.

Allow the pups to sit in the open air for a day or two.

Then plant them in their pots.

It’s also possible to propagate this species of Agave by seed.

Collect seeds from the flowers of your plant by simply placing small bags over the flowers as they die back and begin to go to seed.

This will prevent seeds from being scattered.

Agave Pests or Diseases

In the wild, there are several pests plaguing the Agave family.

Among them are Cactus Longhorn Beetles, soft scale insects, and the Agave snout weevil.

If your Agave is infested with one of these pests, you will notice drying, withered leaves, as well as brown spots on the plant itself.

Spray your plant with broad-spectrum insecticide to deal with these pests.

Watch the plant carefully and reapply as needed (in accordance with instructions) until your plant regains its health.

There are also a number of fungal infections causing trouble for Agave plants.

Among them are:

  • Phyllosticta Pad Spot
  • Root and Crown Rot
  • Anthracnose

If one of these infections invades your plant, you may see brown spots, black spots, lesions, and signs of rot.

All of these infections are the result of fungal spores, which are caused by excessive moisture.

Avoid overwatering your Agave, and you should be able to avoid these diseases.

Occasional use of an antifungal agent may help prevent infection.

Additionally, be sure your succulent gets plenty of sunlight and is situated in a location with good air circulation.

Remove withered leaves promptly as they can harbor fungus.

If your plant becomes infected with fungus, you will need to destroy it and start over.

Be sure to clean up the area where you will keep your new Agave to remove any mold spores.

If planting your new Agave as a container plant, use a new container and all-new potting medium.

If planting outdoors, choose a new location for your new plant.

Drench the soil in the old location with an anti-fungal treatment.

Is This Plant Toxic Or Poisonous?

All Agave contains poisonous sap, which can cause a rash and irritation on sensitive skin.

If ingested, the sap can cause gastrointestinal distress.

Additionally, the dark brown spines of Agave potatorum can present a hazard.

Be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection when handling this plant.

Place it in an area free of heavy foot traffic.

Is This Plant Invasive?

This small Agave is very slow-growing and needs very specific conditions in order to survive, so it’s not invasive even in areas where it can thrive.

Suggested Uses For Drunkard Agave

It’s easy to grow all sorts of Agave.

Even with neglect, the slow-growing plants can add a lot of beauty to your home or garden.

Agave potatorum is the perfect choice for an apartment dweller or other small gardeners who don’t want to go through much trouble but have a nice sunny window or balcony.

Good use of this plant include:

  • Subtropical or Tropical Gardening
  • Containers Indoors or out (Queen Victoria Agave is also good)
  • Mediterranean Garden
  • Desert Gardening
  • Rock Garden
  • Xeriscaping

If you’re xeriscaping, be sure to start with plants cultivated outdoors.

These are far more drought tolerant and will be able to stand up to the full sun and oppressive heat.

In Mexico, Agave potatorum is used to make pulque, a Mexican wine.

In Sonora, Mexico, the central inner portion of the rosette (the heart) is baked in an underground oven to create a fermented juice.

This is then distilled into a liquor known as Bacanora.