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Succulent plants from down under Adventive Plants (Part 6):

Its time for an erratum Agave americana Pictures and more

XIV. Its time for an erratum

After almost two years of writing these accounts on naturalization of succulent plants in New Zealand it
was the time I think to take few steps back and have a critical look at everything I have written. I was
aware of few of the errors made - a good excuse is the fact that I am an amateur still on a steep learning
curve; however, even if I have briefly mentioned some of them in subsequent articles now its time I
think to substantiate a bit.

a) Sedum decumbens vs. Sedum kimnachii

In Part 2, Chapter VI. - The Sedum Group I wrote:

Sedum decumbens R. T. Clausen 1975 [Mexico] was collected as early as 1986 at
Britannia Heights in Nelson by Sykes who published the naturalization of this
plant in 1988 in vol. 4 of Flora of New Zealand and in his 1989 Checklist.
However, it doesnt seem to spread too much since and being collected just from
few localities as Goose Bay (Marlborough) and Banks Peninsula (Christchurch) and
also few other places in Canterbury. It prefers the roadsides where it grows
usually hidden between grasses or taller vascular plants. As an alpine plant it
obviously prefers a cooler climate and its distribution is apparently restricted
to the South Island. However, two collections of a very similar plant (7) were
made in Wanganui and Wellington, the latter on very steep clay bank on roadside;
patch sprawling down bank among Crassula multicava and partly overtopped by
Coprosproma repens on a north aspect. This plant reminds of a miniature Sedum
praealtum and is also often confused with Sedum palmeri Watson the main
difference being that the latter has more or less glaucous and usually smaller
leaves. Plants now treated as Sedum decumbens have previously been included
within a broader concept of Sedum confusum Hemsley.

And further down:

In the end few words about what I think it is a disputed name - Sedum kimnachii
Byalt 1999 [Mexico]. This is a recent segregation from Sedum decumbens (and still
considered by some botanists a synonym of this taxon and of Sedum clausenii Byalt
1998). There is one problem though (even if we accept the validity of this new
taxon) both in cultivation and nature it is very often mislabeled /
misidentified as Sedum decumbens or even as Sedum confusum which makes me rather
skeptical in this case. No recent account which might include it as a New Zealand
naturalized plant is known to me except New Zealand Plant Conservation Network
( with a last minute addition; the plants photographed by Jeremy
Rolphe in October 2007 in Lower Hutt, north of Stokes (Wellington) have
definitely a different look from other plants labeled Sedum decumbens I have
seen. However, Sedum decumbens has some degree of natural variability and to
put it this way Im rather keen to hear a second opinion from a different
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botanic authority. As apparently no other collections have been done yet other
than those recorded as Sedum decumbens (?) outside the known distribution area of
this plant and which probably have already lost any scientific relevance - it is
too early for this; see (7) again.

Ray Stephenson has sent me last August not the second opinion as I was asking for, but The Opinion
regarding these Sedum taxons. Shortly after I have joined ICN he kindly sent me an email and later on
two short published references clarifying this matter for me.

Ulrich described Sedum aoikon back in 1917, a plant of unknown origin as the natural habitat was and
still is a mystery using for this purpose two of the specimens he was growing in his greenhouse. This
description was soon readily available to the public and because of being an undemanding plant Sedum
aoikon became very popular in collections. A string of errors had to follow. In 1959 R.T. Clausen
considered Sedum purpusii Rose (not Kunze) as being a synonym, although he made this assessment
based on dried herbarium exemplars. He also couldnt provide a location or a habitat type for this plant,
despite of his extensive field trips (1). He couldnt even find cultivated plants as described by Hemsley in
1878, but instead, earlier in 1948, R.T. Clausen erroneously keyed differences between Sedum confusum
and Sedum aoikon. In his Sedum of North America (1975) R.T. Clausen finally took a step back and
considered that the opinion now is that the types of both S. confusum and S. aoikon apply to the same
species, with the oldest name of Sedum confusum Hemsley 1878 having priority. At about the same
time R.T. Clausen became aware of the fact that a plant distributed in California as early as 1931 with
the label of Sedum confusum to which although it is obviously related, does not match the description of
Sedum aoikon by having much smaller but thicker leaves, by forming rosettes at the stem tips and
because of important differences of the inflorescence, more open and with a lighter colour of the flowers.

R.T. Clausen considered that a new name is needed for this plant and described it with the name of
Sedum decumbens. Ray Stephenson (1991) considers that S. decumbens is as common in British
collections as S. confusum, but both are labeled S. confusum or very rarely S. purpusii. As most
nurserymen would still use Clausens earlier book (1959) for identification, the myth is perpetuated.

But we are only halfway through the story. In later years the name Sedum decumbens became
increasingly used in trade and in nurseries, and hobbyists have been made aware of the difference
finally things appeared to have settled. However, V.V. Byalt has uncovered that Luc has previously
used this name in 1823 in order to describe a variation of Sedum (Hylotelephium) telephium of the
Estonian Baltic island of Saaremaa. It took some time for people to adapt and use Clausens name, and
even things seemed to have settled there was already time for a new name change. Byalt proposed in
1998 a new name Sedum clausenii, honouring R.T. Clausen but making an error of his own as this
name was a homonym too by being used in the same year by Prez Calix. V.V. Byalt corrected this by
proposing a year later a new name Sedum kimnachii, a name which honours Myron Kimnach.

It will take again probably some time for the hobbyists to adjust in using this new name but at least I
got it now. To my defense I have to say that both names Sedum kimnachii and Sedum decumbens are
still alternatively used in New Zealand accounts, which may have contributed to my confusion.

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b) The Rangitoto Aeonium plants

In Part 4, Chapter X. A brief overview of the adventive succulent flora of Rangitoto there is a series
of misidentifications of Aeonium plants growing on Rangitoto. I have corrected these errors (2) in an
article for ICN (Zimer, 2008), but still I have to make it here as well.

I have identified this plant as Aeonium undulatum hybrid, but this is only half true. Giuseppe Tavormina
has identified this plant as Aeonium undulatum x Aeonium haworthii, a type very similar to the hybrid
Ray Stephenson. What is truly amazing about Giuseppes correct identification is that he has seen the
1. Aeonium undulatum x Aeonium haworthii
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similarity to this hybrid although the Aeonium was dormant at the time the photo was taken. When
simply comparing the Rangitoto photo with few photos of the hybrid Ray Stephenson you can find on
the Internet it takes a lot of knowledge and a good eye to see the similarity. Months later I can see myself
that a cultivated plant of this type collected from Rangitoto looks much more like Ray Stephenson
plants depicted on the Internet.

I have identified this plant as Aeonium ciliatum or possibly one of its hybrids, which was a gross
mistake, the plant being the true Aeonium undulatum (Giuseppe has corrected again my

2. Aeonium undulatum
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The plants here are of course Aeonium undulatum x Aeonium haworthii (on the left) and Aeonium
undulatum (on the right).

c) The Cakile maritima confusion

Even if this was just a short commentary on one of the pictures illustrating Part 3, Chapter VIII.
Carpobrotus edulis, a friendly alien? this was a quite embarrassing error, being made with no judgment
at all. To the picture below

3. Aeonium undulatum x Aeonium haworthii (on the left) and
Aeonium undulatum (on the right).

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I made the following commentary:

On Whangamata Beach (Coromandel) Carpobrotus edulis (the yellow
flowering form) is present just on smaller patches, growing among
native succulent sand dunes flora.

This native plant is Cakile maritima, the well-known European Searocket. I didnt know anything
about this particular plant not to speak of the extremely little knowledge I had (and still have) about the
Brassicaceae, the mustard family, but still I was under the impression that this must be a native plant.
The Whangamata (Coromandel Peninsula) plants were growing in a very composite environment, the
sand dunes being altered in more or less recent times and scattered not only with Carpobrotus edulis, but
also with other plants like Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis and other alien plants (not to mention the
tourists). On the other hand the Opoutere plants just a short stretch to the North appeared to be fully
integrated in what seemed to be a little altered sand dunes habitat, growing together with native Spiniflex
and Calystegia species and with far less tourists willingly to take the walk through the bush to the remote
4. Carpobrotus edulis with Cakile maritima.
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beach, but packed instead with nesting birds. The growth form was also somewhat different it looked
like a real wild plant, quite distinct from the Whangamata plants with a cultivated look and sustained
growth. I have regarded this plant as being native, with the little doubt, which usually pairs up with
ignorance, but having in mind to research the matter - which I eventually did. However, this error
slipped into the text at a time I still had no idea what kind of plant this may be.

XV. Agave americana

The first reasonable thing to do when discussing about the naturalized Agave americana plants in New
Zealand is to underline the fact that we deal with a very complex species, with two dozens or more of
forms, varieties and subspecies lumped together under a single umbrella. I have seen this plant in three
occasions so far here in the wild, and in many aspects each group was distinct from each other. It is hard
to believe that we may encounter here the same variety of forms as in Mexico, but definitely there are a
lot of distinct forms in cultivation, both true forms and of horticultural origin. It is in fact a very popular
landscaping plant and there is no wonder that sooner or later some clones have managed to escape

5. One of the larger Agave americana on Rangitoto, possibly 50m 60 cm high.
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Agave americana is in fact one of the first naturalized succulent plants being observed in New Zealand.
T. Kirk first mentioned it in 1869 as being established in North Shore (Auckland), but the earliest
botanical collection made by W.R.B. Oliver at Seatoun (Wellington) and is dated February 1942. The
plant is quite widespread in the North Island, being established especially in coastal areas of Auckland,
Bay of Plenty and Wellington, and on several islands of Hauraki Gulf (Auckland) and Firth of Thames
(Coromandel). There are just two confirmed locations in the South Island - Kaikoura (Marlborough) and
Waipara (Canterbury), but I wouldnt wonder to hear that plants have been sighted in other areas as well.
Originally this is a typical dry coastal plant and therefore in New Zealand it prefers dry rocky slopes
with a strong marine exposure (3). There are no high infestation areas though, but there are few sites
(especially on islands) where the plant is present in significant numbers. In New Zealand it is considered
an invasive plant.

New Zealand botanists make no distinction between different forms and subspecies, Agave americana
being described as a very large perennial plant with rosette growth form. The leaves are up to 2 m long,
are fleshy and triangular in cross section. The leaves are leathery, glaucous and have coarse teeth on
6. General view of the Agave americana colony
with lava blocks and grass tussocks.
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the margins. Leaves are usually dull green, although a variegated form is also present. After 10 to 15
years vegetative growth it produces a large woody spike (scape) up to 10 m tall with a terminal panicle
of many yellow flowers. Black seeds are produced in 5 cm long capsules. (4)

New Zealand plants are definitely escapes from cultivation. The first group of plants I have seen here
shortly after moving to New Zealand was in Aucklands North Shore, in a light bush like area, close to
the shore and to residential areas as well. The few smallish plants I have seen had broad glaucous leaves,
some of them stiff, some bent, and definitely did not belong there

My second encounter was probably the most spectacular succulent plant seen by me in the wild, but
unfortunately I didnt have at that time a digital camera to immortalize the plant. It was in late 2003 on
the northern end of the Mt. Maunganui beach, towards the sand dunes. A huge Agave americana var.
marginata growing isolated on the beach, catching the eye in an instant. The plant was possibly over 2
meters high and across with its spreading stiff leaves, and grew among its numerous suckers spread as
far as 10 m or possibly even more in the fine sand of the beach. I was truly amazed, first of all by the
substrate. I would have never believed that it could thrive in such fine sand. I dug out 30 or 40
centimeters and there was still pure fine sand, it could have been even few meters layer of sand until you
hit the solid ground and suckers running everywhere nearby in many dozens, from 5 centimeters
plantlets to well established young plants of 30 cm or more. No dwellings in the area, but the Mt.
Maunganui sand dunes have been for years allegedly the preferred garden waste dumping space in the
area (but this was to be learned few years later). What I truly regret is that I didnt use one of the very
few shots left on my film camera and that I didnt collect one of the smaller suckers thinking of course
that as I didnt have too much space to offer in my greenhouse there was no point in taking one.

A third direct encounter was on Rangitoto Island and for this one I will take now the time. Odd
enough, even Hauraki Gulf islands are vaguely mentioned in the distribution area of Agave americana in
New Zealand, there is no botanical account placing the plant on Rangitoto, although everybody is keen
to nominate this iconic landmark. Hard to explain I think it is highly unlikely that none of the botanist
publishing checklists of naturalized plants or other papers knew anything about this; fact is that no one
has ever mentioned the plant here. Wotherspoon & Wotherspoon (ca. 2002) is the only major
environmental paper mentioning the plant on Rangitoto, being a Priority Class 2 plant, with a long-term
management objective of Eradication and a five-year management objective of Zero Density. No
information on the current status (as of 2002) was given, but when I visited in January 2008 Rangitoto
the control program appeared to be well on target, as no adult plants seemed to be present.

First of all I see no value in eradicating Agave americana from Rangitoto; as I already mentioned in
relation with the Aeonium colony (5) there is no harm in this, but only a gain in keeping a contained
unique colony here. It would be rather more effective and useful to eradicate plants such as Crassula
multicava, plants being able to form a dense ground cover that prevents the regeneration of native
species (Wotherspoon & Wotherspoon, ca. 2002) which seem to be almost out of control. We all know
that vegetation control is very expensive and that everyone is on a budget, but I think that a direct and
sustained approach is always better and (at least in this case) financially affordable say a $1 surcharge
on the ferry ticket than an apparently cheaper, but indirect, sophisticated and highly unreliable
approach as stated further in the above cited paper: Weed control experience on Rangitoto has shown
that all the weeds at a given site are best treated at the same time. Many of the weedy areas around bach
communities have a ground tier dominated by the lower priority weeds Nephrolepsis cordifolia
(Davalliaceae) and Crassula multicava. Any area treated for a higher priority weed is rapidly invaded
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by these species and their dense growth obscures seedlings of higher priority weeds such as Rhamnus
and Asparagus asparagoides (Liliaceae) (6). Initial control of the class 1 weeds is now complete, and
yearly follow-ups control usually incorporates the lower priority weeds at the site. The priority for
control of sectors rests on the distribution of the more widely distributed, high priority class 2 weeds.
The general strategy aims to slow the spread of weeds by controlling the least infested of the sectors
first, working towards the most heavily infested areas. In my opinion this would be insufficient in some
instances and excessive (and in the end a waste of funds) in other cases like Agave americana for
instance. However, no matter if a class-layer, zonal or a targeted one-by-one approach, there is little
hope of completely getting rid of weeds like Crassula multicava, but we can successfully control slow
growing architectural plants like Agave americana instead I am not sure that this is really the best
outcome though. Personally I think that Zero Density control and a contained are of dispersal would be
more effective (both financially and ecologically) it is much easier to prevent Agave americana from
flowering (it takes a relatively long time for the flower spike to mature) with a meaningful aim to avoid
short range dispersal by birds or by other means than aiming to a complete eradication - pointless and
more expensive in the same time. Dispersal on a restricted area is much harder to control as rhizomes are
sent from a mother plant in all directions when still young and far from the flowering age why not
preserve the colony under a fairly strict control?

7. One of the isolated plants towards the southern
end of the colony growing on a different substrate.
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If the Aeonium colony is the most interesting succulent display on Rangitoto, the Agave americana
colony north of Islington Bay wharf is definitely second in line. It occupies a quite restricted area
halfway between the wharf and the passage to Motutapu Island, on an almost open lava field, barely
covered here and there with grass tussocks, on a mild slope ending abrupt in the vicinity of the sea where
on a narrow salt marsh strip Sarcocornia quinqueflora grows in abundance. Just very few plants are
outside a core area of only few thousands square meters. The substrate defies again our expectations
bare lava with accumulations of rocky soils in pockets, due to early erosion or maybe rather remnants of
ashes deposited during the terminal phases of volcanic activity, rich in minerals and extremely poor in
organic matter. A landscape that is quite different from the Mt. Maunganui beach, not to speak from
most of the well-maintained Auckland gardens. However, the plants thrive on Rangitoto and are possibly
in their many hundreds, including the small suckers. Vegetation control (Zero Density at this stage)
seems to be very effective as no mature plants were seen.

The plants are also quite different from the most of the plants you can see in Auckland gardens mainly
slender specimens or variegated forms of horticultural origins; as there is a presence of Agave americana
in Hauraki Gulf and Great Auckland area of over 140 years we possibly deal here with original,
unaltered stock. A second remark all plants look quite similar, no variations whatsoever, most plants fit
in the same growth pattern, rather short leafed plants, more glaucous than the average, with stiff to
slightly outward recurved leaves (not bent, not linear either), of gray-green colour showing distinct
imprints on the young leaves. I might be wrong, but my 50 Cents worth is that in this instance we have a
clone of one of the very variable Agave americana ssp. protamericana Gentry 1982 (7); however,
without mature and flowering plants it is hard to support this point in any way.

Agave americana is very popular in outdoor cultivation, possibly the most extensive cultivated Agave.
Easy to cultivate and adaptable, the plant prefers coastal bluffs and cliffs, sand dunes, rocky places,
rocky grasslands, and other disturbed sites. Its native habitat consists of subtropical to warm-temperate
regions of Mexico, and has managed to escape from cultivation in many regions of Mediterranean
Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific Islands such as Lord Howe Island,
Pagan Island, Cook Islands, Galpagos, Fiji, French Polynesia Islands, Tahiti, and many others, usually
not putting pressure on native habitats, but on occasion becoming invasive as it happened in Palau,
Ogasawara Islands (Japan), or New Caledonia.

While finishing this article I am only days away from a new trip to Rangitoto, accompanied by my
younger son, you can imagine I can hardly wait. This time my intention is to scan the southern coast and
the former bach community there, the prison, the quarry and (only if we will have the time) Wilsons
Park - the remnants of the intended Botanic Garden. Off track browsing is not always easy and it is
usually progressing very slowly; however I might have a bit of extra time for a short leap on the eastern
coast to pay a visit to my favourite sites here the Aeonium and the Agave colonies.

XVI. Pictures and more

I think it might be interesting for the reader to insert few of the pictures and maps worth seeing, which I
havent used in previous chapters. Here we go:

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8. A general map of
Rangitoto Island might
be of good use after
dozens of references to
locations on this
9. The gap between Rangitoto Island and Motutapu
Island at low tide (when it can be crossed by foot) and
few hours later when the tide is picking up. It is a really
insignificant channel, however, no vegetation exchange
has been observed between the islands. Each has its
own geologic and biologic profile.
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10. Carpobrotus
edulis, the yellow
flowering form on
Motutapu Island.
11. This is one of the indefinite forms of the Aeonium colony of Rangitoto. The
Aeonium haworthii parentage is clearly visible, however, it differs from the true
species and from the Aeonium undulatum x Aeonium haworthii hybrid.
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12. A Crassula
coccinea still in
flower in late
January on the
eastern coast of
Rangitoto Island,
close to the Islington
Bay wharf.
13. Crassula multicava growing in a shaded position on Rangitoto Island, west of the Islington
Bay wharf. It may sound funny, but I was just explaining to my younger son that in such a dark
corner there is not even a slim chance to find succulent plants as I saw this plant in the extension
of my highly academic finger. A reminder that everything is possible.
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14. One of the many
dead Aloe maculata
I have seen on
Rangitoto Island.
Contrary to their
normal habit, they
were never forming
here large clumps or
crowded colonies
15. Carpobrotus
edulis, the pink
flowering form at
Ninety Mile Beach.
I have never
managed to take a
picture to an open
flower of the pink
form; I was always
arriving too late in
the evening or too
early in the
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16. The fascinating sand
dunes of Ninety Mile
Beach. Trailing stems of
Carpobrotus edulis can
be seen on the dunes.
17. Habitat picture from Muriwai, on Aucklands west coast. The plateau and the steeps are
home for the South African Carpobrotus edulis, for the native Disphyma australe ssp.
australe and for the sensational natural hybrid between the two.
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18. This photo should
have been part of my
erratum. In the first part
of this series I have
stated that at Piha -
Lion Rock Cotyledon
orbiculata var.
orbiculata grows not
directly on rock, but in a
thin sandy soil. One
year later I have
discovered that on one
side of the rock few
plants were growing on
the vertical cliff faces.
19. Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata on Lion Rock.
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20. Cotyledon
orbiculata var.
orbiculata on Lion
Rock. (left)
21. One of the
mysteries of Lion
Rock the unknown
variant (or hybrid?)
of Cotyledon
orbiculata var.
orbiculata. (below)
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22. Carpobrotus edulis at
Muriwai, a plant growing in
a somewhat more sheltered
spot and displaying
therefore untypical growth.
(Compare it with the picture
from the article dedicated to
Disphyma australe ssp.
australe). (right)
23. The yellow flowering
form of Carpobrotus edulis
under the harsh sun of Port
Waikato sand dunes.
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24. The strong marine exposure of the Port Waikato sand dunes is clearly visible from this picture.
25. Its not an adventive
succulent, but the native
Sarcocornia quinqueflora
ssp. quinqueflora
growing on the vertical
cliff faces at Raglan.
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26. Opuntia
monacantha at
Eastern Beach,
Howick, Auckland.
27. Tradescantia
fluminensis, aka The
Wandering Jew a
plant with marginal
succulence from the
southeastern Brazilian
rainforests. It is one of
the most invasive New
Zealand naturalized
plants. (below)
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28. 29. Cakile
maritima at the
Opoutere beach
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30. Opoutere - just few
meters from the heat of
the sand is the raging
Pacific Ocean. (left)
31. In the end - a last
glimpse on the
Cotyledon orbiculata
var. orbiculata plants
cramped to the
fissures of the cliff
faces at Piha Lion
Rock (below)
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Additional References:

H. S. Gentry - Agaves of Continental North America, 1982;

Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER);

Ray Stephenson Notes on Sedum decumbens Clausen and Sedum confusum Hemsley (in The Sedum Society Newsletter No. 16 January 1991);

Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia;

E. Zimer The naturalized Aeonium of Rangitoto Island (Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand) (on International Crassulaceae Network,

My Notes:

(1) Sedum purpusii Rose has been collected by Carl Purpus between Esperanza and Orizaba, with no other indication of the locality. R.T. Clausen
couldnt locate the habitat of this plant but he was sure that the dried herbarium specimens of Sedum purpusii were the same species as Sedum aoikon.

(2) Giuseppe Tavormina has kindly corrected my errors while a short account on Aeonium naturalized on Rangitoto Island was prepared for publication
on the ICN website.

(3) As it might be the case here, the actual distribution area reflects the simple fact that the little competition and the great variety of coastal
environments was far more adequate for this plant than the humid and densely vegetated bush land.

(4) Description extracted from New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, modified ex A. J. Healy and E. Edgar -Flora of New Zealand, Vol. 3, 1980.
The lifespan of the plants might not be entirely true, other authors consider it up to 30 years. However, this might also depend on climatic factors.

(5) Briefly mentioned at the end of the article The naturalized Aeonium of Rangitoto Island (Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand) published on the ICN

(6) Currently included in their own family, the Asparagaceae.

(7) In Agaves of Continental North America (1982) H.S. Gentry segregates a complex and highly variable form of ssp. americana: Agave americana
protamericana is a wild complex scattered along the Sierra Madre Oriental, notable as much for its variability as for its americana character.
Subspecies protamericana differs from the varieties of americana in its greater variability in form and color of the leaves and their armature, in the
proportions of flower tubes to tepals, the tube being relatively deeper. The leaves of protamericana are generally shorter and the inflorescence
generally has fewer branches.


All errors, omissions and misconceptions are mine.

Eduart Zimer, December 2008 - January 2009

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