Leuchtenbergia principis, commonly know as Agave Cactus, is a sole species of the genus Leuchtenbergia, native to the Chihuahaun desert in central and northern Mexico. While it has a fairly wide distribution, it is never common in any locality, typically having widely dispersed individual plants. In habitat, plants almost invariably grow in association with grasses, Yuccas, or Agaves, where their distinctive tubercles and paper-like spines help to camouflage them. The fragrant flowers of this plant are large, to over 3 inches (7.5 cm) across, with attractive, satiny, pale-yellow petals. Individual flowers may only last 2 or 3 days each, but are typically produced in succession so that the total display may last intermittently through the summer months. Flowers arise from the areoles at the tips of young tubercles – mostly (if not exclusively) on the current year’s growth. This species is closely related to Ferocactus, and plants of the two genera are sometimes hybridized – presumably producing some rather unusual looking hybrids.
Agave Cactus is an exceptional plant which is particularly attractive to people who like some of the odder cactus species. Its leaf-like tubercles are practically unique to the cactus family, and its papery, tassel-like spines means that this plant presents little chance of injury to its grower. In time, plants will develop a desert-worn appearance which many growers favor. Best of all, it is a reliable bloomer, producing large, satiny, butter yellow colored flowers. This is a plant with lots of character, and unexpected beauty. To be fair, it may not be the perfect plant for the novice grower, but for those growers who do not mind catering a bit to the specific needs of their plants, this is an excellent choice.
Light: Full sun to light shade.
Water: Water carefully, lack of water will make the tip of the tubercles yellow. Too much water will make it rot.
Temperature: Agave Cactus is frost tolerant, and will survive brief exposure to hard frosts (down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit / -7 degrees Celsius).
Soil: The potting medium should be especially gritty to provide extra drainage.
Fertilizer: Feed potted plants yearly.
Agave Cactus is usually propagated by seeds, as it rarely pup or have offsets. It has been reported that the plants can be propagated by tubercle cuttings, but this method is not common.
Agave Cactus is a reasonably easy and tolerant plant, and should grow well given the basic guidelines for growing cacti and other succulents. However, this is a desert species, which is adapted to arid conditions, and seems to benefit from intense solar radiation. It should always be moved to a position outside during the warmer months of spring through early fall to benefit from exposure to direct sunlight, and the increased temperatures of summer. Grown exclusively indoors, this species will slowly languish from the comparatively low light levels of interior spaces, and will probably never really thrive. Grown outdoors, this plant has proven to be a reliable bloomer, invariably producing intermittent blooms from late June through September. Despite its desert origins, Agave Cactus tolerate a remarkable amount of rain through their outdoor growing season, but due to their large, turnip-like roots, they can be very susceptible to root rot when exposed to extended cool and wet conditions, so the potting medium should be especially gritty to provide that extra drainage necessary for this species, and extra care should be given through the winter months to prevent over-watering this species. Many growers do not water this plant at all in the winter.
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