Agave Potatorum

The Agave Potatorum

Potato? - A succulent with a strange sounding name, Agave potatorum is also known as the Butterfly Agave. As is the case with most members of the Agave family, Agave potatorum is a desert plant and a native of Mexico. Potatorum is the name of the species and has nothing to do with the potato plant, but rather stems from the plant's use in the brewing of beer. Potatorum is pronounced with the accent on the third syllable, i.e., pot-ta-TOH-rum. At times, one will come across the name Agave vershaffeltii, which is actually a variety of Agave potatorum.

Agave plants are related to the lily family but are more closely related to the Yucca. Most Agave plants bloom only once during the course of their life. They form the shape of a rosette, with the succulent leaves emerging from a center stem. There are in the neighborhood of 200 species of Agave, ranging from Venezuela, throughout the Carribean area, Mexico, and the southern United States, where slightly more than a dozen different species may be found.

Should you ever be in the vicinity, one of the better places to view and be able to identify the different Agave species, including Agave potatorum, is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. This wonderful facility has samples from most of the desert plants found in and around the American Southwest.

Appearance - Agave potatorum is a medium sized agave, its rosette shape growing to about 2 feet high by 3 feet wide. The leaves of the plant vary in length from 10" to 18", and are broad and gray to steel blue in color. The Agave potatorum usually lives about 10 years. Near the end of its life, it sends up a flower-bearing spike that can be anywhere from 10 to 20 feet high. The flowers are a light green, in some cases more yellowish in color, and tinged with red. Once blooming has ended, the entire plant will die. This plant is normally propagated from seed. If you wish to make use of your plant's seeds, which should work perfectly fine, you can, but may have a long wait.

Culture - As it grows in somewhat higher elevations, upwards to 7,000 feet, this plant is somewhat frost hardy, and can survive in temperatures that dip to 6 or 7 degrees below freezing. As expected with a desert plant, Agave potatorum likes full sun and does not require a great deal of water, being able to store the liquid in its leaves for extended periods. This plant is not particularly fussy about what kind of soil it should be placed in, only that the soil be well drained. One mistake gardeners sometimes make when transplanting an agave is to plant it deeper than it was originally planted. When this happens the plant will usually not survive. The plant does require watering when first transplanted, with drip irrigation being the method of choice by many. Once established, the plant only needs to be irrigated occasionally, unless Mother Nature lends a hand. Young plants, intended for use in transplanting later on, are often grown in filtered sun instead of direct sunlight. The plants will benefit from an application of an all-purpose fertilizer, such as 20-20-20 during its spring and fall growing seasons.

Pests And Disease - Insofar as pests and diseases are concerned, the greatest threats to the Agave potatorum are the snout weevil, mites, and crown rot, which can be dealt with by applications of insecticides, miticides, and fungicides, respectively. All three infestations are capable of eventually killing an established plant through tissue damage.

Agave potatorum is an excellent plant for a medium sized container, and as such is low maintenance, an easy plant to care for.