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Abstract Detail

Economic Botany Section

Hodgson, Wendy [1], Salywon, Andrew [1].

Pre-Columbian Agaves: Living Plants Linking to an Ancient Past in Arizona.

The importance of Agaves in Mesoamerica has been long recognized, with Mexico being the center of origin and diversity of the genus from the total number of species and from the agricultural perspective. Agaves were, and continue to be, used for numerous purposes including food, fiber and beverage. However, their significance to Mesoamerican cultures has overshadowed and distorted their role in the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples north of the modern international border. Pre-Columbian farmers cultivated several species of agave in Arizona from at least A.D. 600 to approximately 1400, including Agave murpheyi, A. delamateri, A. phillipsiana, and two undescribed species - all within Gentry’s group, the Ditepalae. Because of their longevity and primarily asexual reproduction, relict agave clones have persisted in the landscape to the present and provide an opportunity to study pre-Columbian nutrition, trade, migration and agricultural practices. Additionally, these remnant clones present a narrow window into the past, allowing a rare opportunity to examine cultivars virtually unchanged since they were last cultivated, within a prehistoric cultural context. Vegetative reproduction perpetuated favorable characteristics selected by farmers and allowed agaves to persist for over seven hundred years. Growing more than one type of agave having different characteristics (such as flowering time, food and fiber characteristics) allowed farmers to select different favorable characteristics for these multi-use crops. Cultivation of ancient New World cultigens is correlated with clonal reproduction and sterility, which have been documented in Gentry’s Americanae, Rigidae, Sisalanae and Ditepalae agave groups. Morphological, molecular, taxonomic, cytological, ecological, nutritional, ethnobotanical and archaeological studies are necessary to answer many questions regarding these plants and their ecological/cultural roles.

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1 - Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ, 85008, U.S.A.


Presentation Type: Oral Paper:Papers for BSA Sections
Session: 42
Location: Magpie B/Cliff Lodge - Level B
Date: Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Time: 10:30 AM
Number: 42002
Abstract ID:803