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Origin and Habitat: Agave murpheyi appears to be quite rare in the wild. Only a few populations are known in southern-central Arizona (U.S.A., Northern America) from the Bradshaw and New River Mountains, east to the Sierra Ancha Mountains and northern Sonora desert (Mexico). Until the last few years less than half a dozen clones were known. Now, 25 to 30 clones are known, occurring in Arizona. The species is reported to be very probably an ancient cultivated plant of pre-Columbian time, and all known clones are found in association with archaeological artefacts. It was cultivated by the prehistoric inhabitants for food and fibre.
Altitude range: Agave murpheyi grows at elevations from 400 to 900 meters.
Habitat and ecology: This species grows in warm temperate to subtropical highlands, arid to semi-arid. Plants are usually found in close proximity of major drainage systems on open, hilly slopes or alluvial terraces in desert scrub with pre-Columbian agricultural and settlement features.
- Agave murpheyi F.Gibson
Agave murpheyi F.Gibson
Contr. Boyce Thompson Inst. Pl. Res. 7: 83 (1935)
Accepted name in llifle Database:
Agave murpheyi f. variegata hort.
ENGLISH: Murphey Agave, Murphey's Century Plant, Hohokam Agave,
SPANISH (Español): Maguey Bandeado, Maguey
Description: Agave murpheyi is a perennial succulent that grows in separated clumps. It forms light green, compact, freely suckering rosettes, 60-80 cm tall, about 1(-1.2) metres across of narrow, straight, toothy light-blue-grey-green leaves lined with small, straight teeth and tipped with a spine up to 2 centimeters long. Plants sucker readily, forming large stands. It rarely sets seeding inflorescence, but produces many plantlets (also called bulbils and semillas, or "seeds") on the flowering stalk. Agave murpheyi is thought to be a cultivated variety kept alive over the centuries as a food source by the prehistoric indigenous people of the Southwestern United States. Its habit of making thousands of bulbils on a single stalk has undoubtedly extended its usefulness. In Arizona this species is found only in proximity to historical Native American sites, another clue to its historical cultivation. This agave produces only by bulbils and hybridizes with Agave chrysantha in Arizona (almost all species labeled as murphy agave are in fact hybrids with the murphy agave being a hybrid itself Agave palmeri x Agave vivipara). Agave murpheyi is quite ornamental as well.
Leaves: 50-65(-80) x 6-8(-10) cm, linear to spatulate (, widest above the middle), firm, short-acuminate, straight or curlimg slightly toward the centre, blade concave above toward apex, below convex toward base, light glaucous green to yellowish green, frequently with pale banding, bud-printing clear, the margin undulate with small single, regular teeth 3-4 mm long, mostly 1-2 cm apart, bases brown, cusps greying. Apical spines short, 12-20 mm long, conic, very shortly grooved or flattened above, dark brown becoming greyish. The leaves develop a yellowish-red coloration during flowering.
Inflorescence: Narrowly paniculate. The stalk is composed of a tall stout stem (scape) supporting an elevated flowering portion (the inflorescence) high above ground. The scape starts to elongate during both daytime and nighttime hours in early winter from January through May and attains an height of 3-4(-5) metres. Bracts persistent, triangular, 10–15 cm long. Lateral branches 10 to 20, slightly ascending, comprising distal 1/4 of inflorescence, longer than 10 cm, beginning to develop during March in the upper portion of the flowering stalk. Over a period of five weeks from late May to late June, these lateral branches bloom with normal-looking flowers, attracted a variety of potential pollinators, but don't produce any mature fruit. Instead, by the summer monsoon season of July and August, the mother plant produce hundreds of miniature agaves or bulbils in these upper side branches. The bulbils appear to arise at the nodes from enlargements of tissue in the vicinity of the former flowers. Without releasing on their own, these bulbils became water-stressed and had to be forcibly removed a year later. By this time they appear quite variable in fresh weight and size. Once planted, they rehydrate and immediately begin to grow. A. murpheyi is probably self-incompatible requiring outcrossing.
Flowers: Flowers 12–21 per cluster, erect, greenish with purple or brown tips and are up to 5-7.5 centimeters long. Perianth segments waxy cream, apex purplish or brownish, tube urceolate, 14–20 × (11–)14–19 mm, limb lobes erect, unequal, (14–)15–20 mm. Stamens long-exserted; filaments inserted unequally at or slightly above mid perianth tube, erect, yellow, (3.3–)4.5–5 cm. Anthers yellow, (16–)22–25 mm. Ovary (1.8–)2.2–4 cm, neck slightly constricted, (0.5–)4–6 mm.
Fruits: The fruit is a short-pedicellate, woody capsule, obovate to oblong or ovate, 5 to 7 centimeters long , apex short-beaked. The capsules contain seeds but these are rarely produced with the flowers aborting before the fruits form.
Seeds: (7–)9–11(-21) mm long and 6-7 mm broad.
Chromosome number: 2n = 60. The plant is a diploid.
Subspecies, varieties, forms and cultivars of plants belonging to the Agave murpheyi group
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Gentry, H. S. “Agaves of continental North America”. University Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.1982.
2) Wikipedia contributors. "Agave murpheyi." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Jan. 2016. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
3) Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, Ariz.) “A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert” University of California Press, 2000
4) Mary Irish “Gardening in the Desert: A Guide to Plant Selection & Care” University of Arizona Press, 2000
5) Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research “Contributions”, Volumi 7-8 1935
6) Carlos E. González Vicente, William H. Moir, Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales y Agropecuarias (Mexico), Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station (Fort Collins, Colo.), United States. Forest Service. Southwestern Region “Strategies for classification and management of native vegetation for food production in arid zones” The Station, 1988
7) Delena Tull “Edible and Useful Plants of the Southwest: Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona” University of Texas Press, 15 September 2013
8) Eric Toensmeier “The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security” Chelsea Green Publishing, 22 February 2016
9) Peter Hanelt, R. Büttner, Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research “Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops: (Except Ornamentals)” Springer Science & Business Media, 10 April 2001
10) The Sonoran Quarterly, Desert Botanical Garden, 2006
11) Fish, S. K.; et al. "Evidence of large-scale agave cultivation in the Marana community". In Fish, S. K.; et al. “The Marana Community in the Hohokam World.” Anthropological papers of the University of Arizona 56. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. 1992
12) Gregonis, L. M. “The Hohokam.” Sonorensis 16(1). 1996.
13) Fish, S. K. "Hohokam impacts on Sonoran Desert environment". In David L. Lentz. “Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the PreColumbian Americas.” New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 264–266. 2000.
14) Rex K. Adams “How does our agave grow? Reproductive biology of a suspected ancient Arizona cultivar, Agave murpheyi Gibson.” Desert Plants 14(2) 11-20. 1998, retrieved 07 April 2016 from <http://eebweb.arizona.edu/courses/ecol414_514/readings/agave.pdf>
15) Agave murpheyi. in: F. Gibson, Contributions from Boyce Thompson Institute 7(1): 83-85, f. 1. 1935.
16) Agave murpheyi. Plant Abstracts. Arizona Game and Fish Department.
17) Pinkava, D.J. and M.A. Baker. “Chromosome and hybridization studies of agaves.”
18) Desert Plants 7(20)93-100. 1985.
19) Arizona Game and Fish Department. 2003-05-08 Agave murpheyi. Unpublished abstract compiled and edited by the Heritage Data Management System, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, AZ. X pp. Retrieved 07 April 2016 from <http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/edits/documents/Agavmurp.fo_002.pdf>
Cultivation and Propagation: Agave murpheyi is a tough agave that tend to be slow grower, taking several years to achieve a mature size, but worth the effort. Grow it in porous soil with adequate drainage. It should be grown in full sun. The leaves will keep their blue-gray colour and the plants will stay more compact. Water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch, with supplemental water during hottest part of year. In winter watering this plant can be done once every 1-2 months, there is no need to mist the leaves. It is a cold hardy species.
Soil: Plant in any soil so long as it is well drained.
Heat and drought tolerance: Excellent.
Hardiness: Hardy to at least -12° C though flowering stems present in winter are more tender.
Maintenance: Low, remove spent leaves.
Propagation: The primary mode of reproduction is vegetative by rhizomatous off-sets called "pups." It is also relatively easy to propagate by suckers. Remove the basal suckers in spring or summer and let the cuttings dry for a few days before inserting in compost. only problem is the logistics of getting to the suckers - very sharp spines and suckers usually right up against, or underneath the mother plant.
Garden uses: Agave murpheyi make great potted plants as well as excellent landscape plants. They are wonderful when used for accent or simply to provide some all year round foliage colour and often used in a pot as a patio plant, they make an eye-catching statement and along with other evergreen plants in pots, can be moved around to change the scenery or position to give more shelter. It is a valuable accent plant with tropical appearance.
Traditional uses: Agave murpheyi was cultivated by the Hohokam and possibly other Native Americans for both food and fiber. For food the basal rosette was harvested just before the Hohokam agave sent up a flower stalk. At this time the concentration of sugars in the rosette is at its highest The rosettes weighing about 4 kg were cooked for two or three days in a pit filled with hot stones and covered with hot coals and dirt. The baked rosette compared in taste to a sweet potato (although containing inedible fiber) is nutritious with 347 calories and 3.5 grams of protein per 100 grams. Hohokam agave was apparently bred for human consumption by Native Americans over many generations. It has several advantages as a plant and food source over other agaves. The acidic juice in its leaves is less caustic than that of many agave species; the Hohokam agave is ready for consumption in late winter and early spring when other agricultural crops are not productive.
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