Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Friday, July 4, 2014 at 5:46 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments
  • Print

Agave plant to produce 1 and only bloom, then die

An 80-year-old American agave plant that will flower once then die is about to do the former.


Associated Press

advertising

ANN ARBOR, Mich. —

An 80-year-old American agave plant that will flower once then die is about to do the former.

Probably.

Housed at the University of the Michigan since 1934, the plant has grown so rapidly since the spring that at more than 27 feet it is now too tall for the Ann Arbor conservatory, which has had to remove a pane of glass to accommodate it.

Just this week, one of the asparagus cousin's flower buds took on an orange-like blush. Could that mean the buds are ready to finally bloom?

"We've been guessing and speculating about when this particular agave is going to bloom for weeks and have been proven wrong every time," said Joe Mooney, spokesman for Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

The agave began to shoot upward in April, at which point a volunteer pointed out a flower stalk to Matthaei horticulture manager Mike Palmer.

"And I went, 'Whaaat?'" Palmer said.

Since then, it has grown as much as 6 inches a day and forced workers to remove the glass to make room for its rapid ascent. Palmer called the pre-branching version of the plant "a giant asparagus on steroids."

The variegated American agave (Agave americana) was collected in Mexico by famed ethno-botanist Alfred Whiting, who then was a University of Michigan graduate student. Known as the century plant because it blooms infrequently, it is native to Mexico and the American Southwest and typically lives 10 to 25 years in the wild before blooming a single time then dying.

It's a mystery why this particular agave stuck around for eight decades, Palmer said.

"We don't know why it waited so long," he said.

While many know agave as the source of tequila, that particular beverage is made from the tequila agave (Agave tequilana). In areas of Mexico where tequila is produced, the American agave is used to make a similar alcoholic drink called mezcal. The American agave's fibers also can be gathered from within the leaves and used for making rope or twine.

Once the flower blooms it will take many months before the plant dies. But in the plant's final throes, it is expected to produce "pups," or genetic clones that look the same as the parent plant, from which Matthaei officials can propagate the species.

"If we can get even one pup, we'll plant it," Mooney said.

___

Online:

Matthaei Botanical Gardens' agave page: http://bit.ly/1qT8Cp3



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►