CPC Plant Profile: Arizona Agave
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Plant Profile

Arizona Agave (Agave x arizonica)

The Arizona agave is a small plant, with a rosette of mahogany-edged leaves reaching only ca. 30 cm tall and 40 cm broad at maturity. Photo Credit: Lynda Pritchett-Kozak
Description
  • Global Rank: GNA
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Asparagaceae
  • State: AZ
  • Nature Serve ID: 141683
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 03/14/1986

Agave arizonica was first discovered in 1959 in the New River Mountains of Arizona (Gentry 1970, 1982). It has been described as one of the rarest and most beautiful agaves in Arizona. The Arizona agave is a member of a prestigious family of plants, the Agavaceae. Within this family are numerous century plants that have been cultivated by humans for food, fiber, and alcohol uses. The Arizona agave is considered to be a hybrid, reportedly from a cross between Agave chrysantha and A. toumeyana v. bella. This means that A. arizonica may be just starting down the path of evolution. (Nabhan 1989, Hodgson & DeLameter 1988, DeLameter & Hodgson 1987a, 1987b). Agave arizonica is native to a small area in central Arizona, occurring on open rocky slopes in chaparral or juniper grassland at elevations from 1100 to 2750 m (3600-5800 ft). The distinctive bright green leaves of this species have mahogany margins and are generally arranged as single rosettes. This is a small plant, with a rosette of leaves reaching only ca. 30cm tall and 40cm broad at maturity. (Gentry 1982) Rosettes produce offsets sparingly in their native habitats, but when grown in cultivation plants produce clones prolifically in this manner. In May or June, a lucky observer may catch a glimpse the small, yellow jar-shaped flowers of this species that grace the top of 3-4 m long, slender stalk rising from the leaf rosette. Unfortunately, cattle grazing in areas where this species naturally occurs has severely impacted the ability of the Arizona agave to successfully produce flowers. In 1988, only 12 of 41 mature plants were able to produce flowers due to trampling and grazing from cattle in the area. (Hodgson & DeLameter 1988) Because plants are of hybrid origin, seeds produced are not necessarily representative of the typical taxon. Plants are reportedly of hybrid origin, with A. chrysantha, a relatively large agave, and A. toumeyana v. bella, a diminutive plant, as the parent species. Only 50-60 clones or plants have been located from distinct locations in Arizona where populations of the two putative parent species overlap. The Desert Botanical Garden has a long history of study associated with A. arizonica, the majority of which has been conducted by W. Hodgson, Herbarium Curator and research botanist, in association with R. Delamater. All of the in situ controlled crosses, and subsequent seed collection was completed by Hodgson and Delamater.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 08/16/2020
  • Genetic Research

Controlled crossed have been conducted on ex situ plants and those in habitat to ascertain whether or not A. chrysantha and A. toumeyana v. bella are indeed the true parents. Seeds resulting from these crosses produced 'typical' A. arizonica plants. Back-crosses from A. arizonica to one of the parents produced plants with characters varying in range between the two parent species, characteristic signs of introgression. The Desert Botanical Garden has successfully grown this plant both from seed and tissue culture (Powers and Backhaus 1989).

  • 08/16/2020
  • Tissue Culture

Controlled crossed have been conducted on ex situ plants and those in habitat to ascertain whether or not A. chrysantha and A. toumeyana v. bella are indeed the true parents. Seeds resulting from these crosses produced 'typical' A. arizonica plants. Back-crosses from A. arizonica to one of the parents produced plants with characters varying in range between the two parent species, characteristic signs of introgression. The Desert Botanical Garden has successfully grown this plant both from seed and tissue culture (Powers and Backhaus 1989).

  • 08/16/2020
  • Reproductive Research

Controlled crossed have been conducted on ex situ plants and those in habitat to ascertain whether or not A. chrysantha and A. toumeyana v. bella are indeed the true parents. Seeds resulting from these crosses produced 'typical' A. arizonica plants. Back-crosses from A. arizonica to one of the parents produced plants with characters varying in range between the two parent species, characteristic signs of introgression. The Desert Botanical Garden has successfully grown this plant both from seed and tissue culture (Powers and Backhaus 1989).

  • 08/16/2020
  • Seed Collection

Controlled crossed have been conducted on ex situ plants and those in habitat to ascertain whether or not A. chrysantha and A. toumeyana v. bella are indeed the true parents. Seeds resulting from these crosses produced 'typical' A. arizonica plants. Back-crosses from A. arizonica to one of the parents produced plants with characters varying in range between the two parent species, characteristic signs of introgression. The Desert Botanical Garden has successfully grown this plant both from seed and tissue culture (Powers and Backhaus 1989).

  • 08/16/2020
  • Reintroduction

Tonto National Forest supported a trial augmentation conducted by the Desert Botanical Garden in the New River region (Kvale et al. 1989). Two plots containing ten plants each were watered several times, and then checked annually for establishment. After three years, only one or two plants remained. Suggested changes made to the experimental design for future attempts include alterations in site selection specifications, and in pre-conditioning of plants to be used.

  • 08/16/2020
  • Orthodox Seed Banking

Controlled crosses between the parent species should be conducted to produce seeds for banking at Desert Botanical Garden and the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Ft. Collins, CO.

  • 08/16/2020
  • Orthodox Seed Banking

Controlled crosses between the parent species should be conducted to produce seeds for banking at Desert Botanical Garden and the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Ft. Collins, CO.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Endemic to a small area in central Arizona where there are few known occurrences (sites), with a total of 50-60 clones. Threatened by collection, cattle grazing, and recreation. Extremely slow to reproduce; will not repopulate an area easily.

Kathleen C. Rice
  • 01/01/2010

Illegal collection is a threat to this species, especially given its slow growth rate and extremely low population numbers. (Hurd and Albee 1976, USFWS 1984). Luckily, this plant grows in locations that are relatively isolated and difficult to reach.

Kathleen C. Rice
  • 01/01/2010

The Arizona agave has both a limited distribution and low numbers. In 1984, when the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act, 13 populations with 1 to 7 individual plants each were known, totaling less than one hundred individual plants for the entire species. (USFWS 1984)

Kathleen C. Rice
  • 01/01/2010

Controlled crossed have been conducted on ex situ plants and those in habitat to ascertain whether or not A. chrysantha and A. toumeyana v. bella are indeed the true parents. Seeds resulting from these crosses produced 'typical' A. arizonica plants. Back-crosses from A. arizonica to one of the parents produced plants with characters varying in range between the two parent species, characteristic signs of introgression. The Desert Botanical Garden has successfully grown this plant both from seed and tissue culture (Powers and Backhaus 1989).

Kathleen C. Rice
  • 01/01/2010

Tonto National Forest supported a trial augmentation conducted by the Desert Botanical Garden in the New River region (Kvale et al. 1989). Two plots containing ten plants each were watered several times, and then checked annually for establishment. After three years, only one or two plants remained. Suggested changes made to the experimental design for future attempts include alterations in site selection specifications, and in pre-conditioning of plants to be used. The road into the main habitat where Agave arizonica occurs has been closed to limit access to this endangered species. (USFWS 1984) An Allotment Management Plan (a document that applies to livestock operations on public lands or on lands within National Forests in the eleven contiguous western states--tailored to the specific range condition of the area where cattle are to be grazed, with the intent to improve the range condition of the lands involved) was signed in 1989 for the New River Allotment. This plan requires water developments for cattle to be placed greater than one-half mile from Agave arizonica, and that fences are erected one-quarter mile from known Agave arizonica locations during flowering periods. (Arizona Game and Fish Department 1997)

Kathleen C. Rice
  • 01/01/2010

Molecular work to determine variation within populations would be helpful in predicting the future status for this species. Plants are long-lived (ca. 15-20 years), so at this point trends and demographic changes over the long term are unknown, but need to be determined in order for proper management of the species to occur.

Kathleen C. Rice
  • 01/01/2010

Controlled crosses between the parent species should be conducted to produce seeds for banking at Desert Botanical Garden and the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Ft. Collins, CO.

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Agave x arizonica
Authority Gentry & J.H. Weber
Family Asparagaceae
CPC Number 44
ITIS 810175
USDA AGAR8
Common Names Arizona agave | Arizona century plant
Associated Scientific Names Agave arizonica | Agave X arizonica
Distribution The two populations are documented on the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona. One is located on steep granitic slopes in the New River Mountains (Maricopa and yavapai Counties). The other is l
State Rank
State State Rank
Arizona SNA
Habitat

Endemic to a very small area on steep, rocky granite slopes, or on level hilltops, sometimes close to drainages, at about 3,000 ft elevation in upper Sonoran Desert habitat (Ecker 1990, Hodges 1990). The surrounding vegetation is a chaparral association that is a transition from an oak-juniper woodland to a mountain mahogany-oak scrub community. (USFWS 1984, Brown 1994). Associated vegetation includes Agave chrysantha, A. toumeyana v. bella, Quercus turbinella, Dasyliron wheeleri, and Arctostaphyllos pungens (USFWS 1984, Ecker and Hodgson 1991).

Ecological Relationships

The Arizona agave flowers in late May through June. A study conducted in 1988 (Hodgson & DeLameter) determined that bumblebees were the most frequent visitors to the inflorescences of this plant, as well as Halictidae bees, and even a wasp (Polistes sp.). Seed set appears moderate compared to A. chrysantha and A. toumeyana ssp. bella. Seed is gradually released via wind throughout the fall and winter.

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bees
Sweat bees Sweat bees Confirmed Pollinator Link
Sweat bees Halicitidae Confirmed Pollinator Link
Bumble bees Bumblebees Confirmed Pollinator Link
Wild bees Floral Visitor Link
Beetles
Beetles Floral Visitor Link
Birds
Hummingbirds Hummingbirds Confirmed Pollinator Link
Hummingbirds Hummingbirds Floral Visitor Link
Flickers Flickers Floral Visitor Link
Doves/pigeons Doves Floral Visitor Link
Doves/pigeons Pigeons Floral Visitor Link
Wrens Wrens Floral Visitor Link
Ravens Ravens Floral Visitor Link
Flies
Flies Floral Visitor Link
Other
Wasps Floral Visitor Link

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