Agave oteroi – a new species from Puebla/Oaxaca

After 35 years, the plants known as Agave FO-076 have finally received a proper name, Agave oteroi, named for Felipe Otero, who originally collected seed of this plant with the wicked teeth from the Sierra Mixteca in 1984. For nearly 20 years, these plants were not very popular and difficult to sell. Then something changed in the early 2000’s collectors couldn’t get their hands on them fast enough and somebody had the misfortune of calling it Agave titanota, which is really quite a different plant. Aside from a handful of people, nobody in the horticulture industry has actually visited the original locality for Agave titanota, therefore rendering them unqualified to make a rational decision on whether the two are the same species or different species. It is unfortunate that the name stuck as it is now very difficult to correct the misapplication of the name.

Agave oteroi (Formerly Agave FO-076) at the type locality in a side drainage of the Rio Hondo.
Agave oteroi along the Rio Hondo.
Agave oteroi along the Rio Hondo.

Over the course of three years, I made several trips to Oaxaca to study both Agave titanota and Agave FO-076 and measure flowers, leaves, and plants, and collect pressed specimens of both. The first order of business was to visit the type locality of Rancho Tambor to determine if any Agave FO-076 could be found there. There were thousands of blue or blue-white leaved plants with a handful of Agave kerchovei mixed in and the occasional hybrid between Agave titanota and Agave kerchovei resulting in a light blue-green leaved plant with a faint central stripe on the leaves.

Agave titanota at the type locality of Rancho Tambor.

A big hike through the Jiquila drainage, revealed the center of distribution for Agave titanota with thousands upon thousands of plants occupying steep, limestone cliffs with no evidence of any Agave FO-076 in sight. Armed with this observation, significant measurements, photos, samples for future genetic analysis, and pressed specimens to make herbarium vouchers, co-investigator, Tristan Davis and I embarked on a path to analyze the data and provide a name for this orphaned taxa. The result is the formal description of Agave oteroi in the journal of Cactus and Succulent Society of America.

A limestone cliff filled with Agave titanota along the Jiquila drainage.
Agave titanota at La Huerta.

One unfortunate incident in the article occurred after we reviewed the final draft prior to publication. For some reason, the correct map was removed and a map for a different article was put in its place. The original caption was left in resulting in the species distributions being incorrect. Have no fear though, we finally received our copy of the PDF and the incorrect map was removed and the correct map is in its place. The link to the article with the proper map is here: Agave oteroi

Agave titanota distribution is concentrated in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley and is centered from Rancho Tambor south to La Huerta in the Jiquila drainage, with outliers occurring along the Rio Hondo near the Calapa bridge and southwest in the drainage near the Santa Lucia bridge. To the southeast of the Santa Lucia bridge rises the massive mountain, Cerro Verde, where thousands of Agave titanota can be seen clinging to the limestone cliffs.

Agave titanota at the type locality of Rancho Tambor.
Agave titanota at La Huerta.
Agave titanota in flower at La Huerta.

Agave oteroi has its center of distribution along the Rio Hondo and is quite common there and in its many side drainages. It is along the Rio Hondo, which forms part of the border between Puebla and Oaxaca, near the Calapa bridge, where three closely related species occur, Agave kerchovei, Agave oteroi, and Agave titanota. These three will hybridize and many cultivated plants being sold as Agave titanota are from hybrid seed.

It is unfortunate that so many peoples’ first exposure to the name Agave titanota was the plants formerly known as Agave FO-076. It has been said by some that naming Agave oteroi is a splitting up of Agave titanota but that is simply not true. Because the original description never included the plants now known as Agave oteroi they could not be “split out” from Agave titanota.

Agave oteroi in a side drainage of the Rio Hondo near the Calapa bridge.
Agave oteroi, note the extra large woody section below the terminal spine.
Agave oteroi along the Rio Hondo near the Calapa bridge, note the broadly obovate leaf shape.
Agave oteroi along the Rio Hondo near the Calapa bridge.
Agave oteroi
Agave oteroi along the Rio Calapa, note the dense rosettes.
Agave titanota
Agave titanota at La Huerta.
Agave titanota x Agave kerchovei
Agave titanota x Agave kerchovei
Agave titanota x Agave kerchovei, note the thin inflorescence with reddish flowers which is typical for Agave kerchovei and not the thick inflorescence with yellow flowers as seen in Agave titanota.

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