Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Crazy Plants: Century Plant

The American aloe (Agave americana), also known as the century plant
Several century plants in bloom
Technically the entirety of the Agave genus can be called "century plants," however I am referring specifically to the American aloe (Agave americana). Legend says these plants bloom once every hundred years, however in the right conditions it can take much less time, as little as fifteen years. The plant will begin to grow a long stalk from its center, putting all of its energy into the growth. When the stalk reaches its full length (which can be more than thirty feet), it flowers and then the entire plant dies. When flowering, six hundred flowers on a single plant is not uncommon.

In Mexico, the plant is a very useful source of material. If the stalk is cut off before it has grown very long, a pool of sap will appear. This can then be used for such things such as making a popular drink which can then be fermented and distilled. The pith can even be used for insulation.

Close up of the flowers
This is a common plant used in landscaping, gardens, and greenhouses. In the south, the plants thrive, but in the north the plants require the extra warmth a greenhouse prodives. It is quite large: up to seven feet high and twelve feet in diameter, not including the stalk. I believe there may be two century plants on my college campus, which has several gardens that include a wide variety of plants, some of which are very unusual.

Here is a photo diary of a century plant that bloomed in 2007 at Longwood Gardens after being there for ten years. A window pane of the greenhouse it was being kept in had to be removed to accommodate the stalk. Another plant at the Bronx Park Botanical Gardens bloomed after being there for fifty years.

Sources are Time Magazine, University of Arizona, and Longwood Gardens. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses or are copyright free: one, two, three.

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