Agave atrovirens, also known as pulque agave or maguey verde grande, are an agave species that provide sap to make the alcoholic beverage pulque. It’s native to South America, but it has since been distributed worldwide, including in the United States and Europe.
Pulque agave looks similar to other species of agave, with long slender leaves and distinctive yellow flowers at the top of its rosette. To grow pulque agave successfully in your garden, you must understand its special needs and its lifecycle.
Agave atrovirens is native to South Central Mexico and parts of Southern Texas. It has long leaves with serrated edges that can grow up to 2 feet in length and its succulent stem will sometimes grow over 6 feet tall when cultivated in the right environment.
Origin and distribution
Agave atrovirens is originally from Mexico, growing best in hot and dry climates. Also known as maguey verde grande, it can be found growing in various locations around Mexico and its surrounding countries.
These regions often experience high temperatures between 20 and 28 degrees Celsius, perfect for cultivating these agaves. Overall they can grow up to a height of six feet with large leaves reaching lengths of 3 to 7 inches.
They are able to adapt to different types of soil but prefer sandy soil that drains well. They also do not require much water or nutrients due to their ability to store them internally. However, if there is not enough rainfall during their growth period, they will need irrigation until fully mature.
This agave has been used by people for many years; however, due to their slow growth rate and low population numbers in some areas has caused concern about overharvesting them.
Agave atrovirens propagation
Agave atrovirens are best propagated by dividing offsets that grow off of the mother plant, rather than seeds. To propagate an offset, take a mature offset from your mother plant and cut it from its roots and base. Then plant it in a container with cactus soil and wait for it to root. Over time, your offset will grow into a new maguey verde grande plant on its own accord.
You can also propagate by rhizome cuttings. The stolon-bearing varieties may be used to form large maguey verde grande plantations. Plants from seed are generally more vigorous than plants from rhizome cuttings but are much slower in reaching maturity.
This makes them ideal for use as landscape specimens and for outdoor container plantings, where the rapid establishment is less important than hardiness and adaptation to local growing conditions.
Alternatively, you can also buy pulque agave plants online or at local nurseries.
Agave atrovirens care information
Caring for Agave atrovirens (Pulque Agave) is not difficult, but can be challenging in regards to location. The plant is intolerant of frost, as it kills parts of its rosette; however, it can handle light frosts and short periods of snowfall once established.
It also cannot tolerate an excess of direct sunlight for long periods of time, especially in hotter climates.
Because of its extreme drought tolerance, agave atrovirens is a popular choice for xeriscaping. It grows well in full sun or partial shade and requires little water once established.
However, if you live in a dry climate and want to grow agave atrovirens from seed, be sure to give it plenty of water during its first year until it has established a root system. Otherwise, you may end up with a large brown spot on your lawn instead of a beautiful flowering plant!
Plant Agave atrovirens near a window that faces east or west with some morning sun exposure. If it isn’t getting enough light, your plant will grow very slowly and may never flower. You can help by moving it closer to a window with more light or by adding additional fluorescent lights.
If you notice leaves yellowing, move them farther away from your windows. Make sure there is no direct sunlight on your agave as it will burn. Keep in mind that when placing them close to a window, you need to make sure they are not touching any glass as they could get sunburned.
Select a potting mix with well-draining soil, as Pulque agaves are fairly sensitive to overwatering. A mix of one part loam, one part sand, and one part peat moss or perlite is ideal. A pH level between 6.5 and 7.0 is preferred; test your soil before planting by using a home garden pH kit. If necessary, adjust soil acidity by adding lime.
There is no such thing as too much water for Agave atrovirens. Unlike many other plants, you can water your agave whenever you want, but it’s best to apply water deeply rather than frequently. A good rule of thumb is to let them sit in water for about 15 minutes and make sure that every inch of soil gets soaked.
This will ensure a healthy root system and keep your plant from drying out. It also means that you should never have to worry about over-watering, so long as you are giving them enough time between watering sessions.
Agave atrovirens are tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, but it grows best in sandy loam. It prefers high fertility, slightly acidic soils. Fertilize only in spring or early summer with a general-purpose fertilizer.
Apply approximately 2 pounds of nitrogen per 100 square feet or 5-10-5 per 200 square feet. You should see an immediate and dramatic improvement in your plant’s health and vigor as well as growth after fertilizing.
Agave atrovirens require a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep it out of direct sunlight to avoid sunburns. The agave is frost sensitive, so if you live in an area that gets frost, move your plant indoors before temperatures drop below freezing.
If you don’t have room for your agave inside, place it in a sheltered location outside where it will be protected from wind and frost.
A high humidity environment is ideal for Agave atrovirens. While they aren’t necessarily desert plants, they can be sensitive to drying out, so it’s important to maintain a water supply in any environment where you grow an agave. The key to watering an agave is not over-watering them; their soil should drain properly and only be given enough water to keep it hydrated.
The ideal humidity range is between 60-80%. You can maintain a high humidity environment by misting your agave daily. It’s also a good idea to place your agave in an area that gets plenty of air circulation, such as near a window or vent.
Agave atrovirens is a succulent. It must be pruned to retain its compact form. Prune only dead, damaged, or weak spines and stalks during any time of year but preferably in late winter or early spring. If you are using your agave as a landscape plant, leave one flower stalk when it dies back so you can save seeds for propagation.
Cut off all dead flowers as they appear after blooming. You may also remove flowering spikes before they bloom if you wish to prevent self-pollination. Removing these spikes will not reduce total leaf production because there are usually many rosettes on each mature plant that will continue to produce leaves throughout their lives.
As with most plants, pruning improves air circulation around your agave and prevents the disease from spreading from infected parts of the plant.
When to repot
Repotting an Agave atrovirens should take place between every three and five years, depending on its size. It’s best to repot during spring or summer when temperatures are warm. While older plants may require more frequent repotting, it can be very stressful for them, so avoid doing so if possible.
If you do need to repot a mature plant, make sure you have a large enough pot that will allow plenty of room for growth. After removing your plant from its current container, soak it in water overnight before planting. This will ensure that your soil has ample moisture as you begin planting.
If your plant is root bound, meaning there is not much space between where roots end and where they begin, you might want to consider dividing your plant into two separate pots before replanting.
Dormancy is an essential part of a healthy agave’s life. During dormancy, many agaves will drop their old leaves and sprout new ones. Those that remain green can require more water and fertilizer to keep them in prime health.
In other words, plants that do not go dormant may need more care than those that do! The best way to tell if your plant has gone into winter rest is by looking for browning leaves or stalks on your plant. If you notice these signs, it might be time for you to start caring for your agave during its winter rest period.
Your plant should be kept indoors during its dormancy period so it doesn’t freeze outside or receive too much sun inside your home or office.
Agave atrovirens flower & fragrance
The flowers of Agave atrovirens are large and fairly inconspicuous, opening only during nighttime. They have a typical shape for a member of Asparagaceae with six petals fused together into a floral tube with free tips. The flowers emerge from terpenes produced by tubular glands on each petal.
Their pungent aroma attracts specific moths whose larvae pollinate the plants, but unfortunately, it is also quite attractive to the human nose, too.
This succulent grows very slowly and is sometimes considered a houseplant. Be sure to fertilize it during spring, summer, and fall with liquid or powdered fertilizer. In the winter months, cease fertilizing, but be sure to keep it near a window for adequate light. You can also give your agave repotting material every few years so that its roots have more room to grow.
The sap and leaves of Pulque agave plants are toxic. They contain calcium oxalate crystals which cause skin irritation in humans. If ingestion is suspected, try to induce vomiting and seek medical attention immediately.
If ingested, do not induce vomiting but seek immediate medical attention and call a poison control center for further guidance. Though rare, keep emergency contact information on hand for symptoms such as hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of lips or throat.
USDA hardiness zones
Agave atrovirens thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. In colder climates, it can be grown as an annual.
Pests and diseases
Pulque agaves are susceptible to pests, although few pests are serious enough to require control. Whiteflies are usually controlled by natural enemies and rarely require treatment.
Aphids, mealybugs, and mites may become so numerous as to require spraying with an insecticide such as Malathion. Treatments of horticultural oil may be needed if scale or mites infest plants.
Caring for Agave atrovirens is an endeavor that requires daily maintenance and attention. However, as you’ve read above, there are many benefits that make it worth your while to invest time in cultivating these plants. These plants will reward you with beautiful flowers and a sweet pulp called pulque that can be distilled into tequila or mezcal.