Two new Agave species (Agavaceae) from central Arizona and their putative pre-Columbian domesticated origins


Recent fieldwork in central Arizona resulted in the discovery of two agaves that display low seed set, reproduce mainly by vegetative means, have restricted distributions, and cannot be readily assigned to any existing species. These agaves are closely associated with archaeological structures and features and can be found growing with other previously described pre-Columbian Agave domesticates. Herein we describe Agave verdensis and A. yavapaiensis, two species that can be placed within Gentry’s informal Ditepalae Agave group, and propose that they are clonal relict domesticates. The two species have affinities with A. chrysantha, A. shrevei, and A. delamateri, the latter also a central Arizona pre-Columbian domesticate. We provide a key to distinguish these species from other agaves in central Arizona and adjacent northern Mexico with which they may be confused. The discovery of these two new species brings the total number of putative Arizona Agave domesticates to five species.


Trabajo de campo reciente en el centro de Arizona, ha resultado en el descubrimiento de dos agaves que presentan una baja producción de semillas, se reproducen principalmente por medios vegetativos, tienen distribución restringida y no pueden asignarse a ninguna de las especies existentes. Estos agaves están asociados con estructuras arqueológicas y pueden encontrarse creciendo con otros agaves pre-Colombinos domesticados y anteriormente descritos. Se describe a continuación, Agave verdensis y A. yavapaiensis, dos especies que pueden ubicarse entre el grupo Ditepalae de agaves propuesto informalmente por Gentry. Las dos especies tienen afinidades con A. chrysantha, A. shrevei y A. delamateri. El último también es un Agave pre-Colombino domesticado del centro de Arizona. Proveemos una clave para distinguir estas especies de otros agaves en el centro de Arizona y el noroeste de México con los cuales pueden ser confundidos. El descubrimiento de estas dos nuevas especies eleva el número total de agaves domesticados en Arizona a cinco especies.

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We thank Donald J. Pinkava and Jane Williams for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript and Luis Hernández-Sandoval (University of Queretaro, Queretaro, Mexico) and Robert Webb (U.S. Geological Survey, Tucson, AZ) for editorial comments that improved the quality of this paper. Raul Puente-Martinez kindly translated the abstract into Spanish. We also thank Kathy Davis, Superintendent of Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot National Monuments for her support and permission to collect within the monuments, permit no. MOCA 2003 SCI 0009. We are grateful to the U.S. Forest Service, Coconino and Prescott National Forests, particularly Barbara Phillips, regional botanist, for her support and permission to collect specimens for herbarium and live collections; also to Terrilynn Greene and Peter Pilles, for hosting several agave roasts held in conjunction with the V-V Archaeology Fair that not only provided taste comparisons of numerous agaves, but helped reconnect local indigenous tribes with their beloved plants. We also thank many of our friends who accompanied us in the field, including Dixie Damrel, Chad Davis, Heidi Fischer, Dawn Goldman, Max Licher, Raul Puente, Joni Ward, and Steve and Jane Williams. We are grateful to Jean Searle who showed Hodgson a number of the Page Springs agaves, and Susanne and Paul Fish, who visited several sites and offered their insight. Finally, we thank Molly Gill and Sandy Turico for the fine illustrations of A. verdensis and A. yavapaiensis, respectively.

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Correspondence to Wendy C. Hodgson.

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Hodgson, W.C., Salywon, A.M. Two new Agave species (Agavaceae) from central Arizona and their putative pre-Columbian domesticated origins. Brittonia 65, 5–15 (2013).

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Key Words

  • Agavaceae
  • Agave
  • Arizona
  • domesticate
  • pre-Columbian