The Century Plant

In the Horridge Conservatory there is a desert plant area. About two years ago this area got a well deserved upgrade. I pulled out some big plants, namely two big Agave americana, that were pushing all the other cactuses and desert-dwellers out of the way. I left two smaller offshoots of the green Agave and the variegated Agave, figuring they would be able to stay for a while. Around the same time, a cactus collection was donated to URI Horticulture. What fun! There were all kinds of Cacti to add to the little desert now. It looked great.

This past spring, I noticed that the green agave, or Century Plant, was getting Really Big. Agave americana is called the Century Plant because it blooms so rarely. Native to Mexico, it is cultivated all over the world as an ornamental plant. It can be as big as twelve feet across at the base, with stout spines at the tip of each wide flat leaf. When it does bloom, after about ten years of growth (OK, not a full century), the flower stalk can be 25 feet tall!

I wanted to move the Century Plant out of the Conservatory and make room for other plants. I thought it would be fun to plant it out side for the summer, perhaps in a big pot, to see what it would do. Of course, with the madness that is springtime in the plant business, I never got around to it. Then in July, the Century Plant began to send up a flower stalk. Little by little the stalk was reaching toward the glass of the greenhouse roof. In August, we removed the pane of glass above the plant. The flower stalk, with swelling buds, went  through the opening and kept growing. Right now, September 8th, it is about 12 feet tall and covered with flower buds.

The Century Plant flowers are yellow, and they look like they will be opening soon.  Of course, once the flowers have finished blooming, the plant will die. Although the flowers may not set seed, there are usually offsets or suckers growing at the base of the plant which can be separated and planted. The Agave americana is usually propagated from these offsets, as the Conservatory specimen was. And once it has died back, we’ll start  over again with a new little plant and wait another ten years or so to see it flower.

agave americana flower stalk

Agave americana, July 2010

agave americanaEarly August, 2010
agave flowerstalk through greenhouse

September 8,2010

through roof

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