A rare event at the Potawatomi Conservatories
One of our century plants (Agave americana) is beginning its once-in-a-lifetime bloom! This plant is one of more than 160 agave species in the world, most of which are native to Mexico and surrounding regions. This species is one of the largest agaves, with a basal rosette of leaves that reaches 6 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide. The huge leaves are thick and succulent, with needle-sharp spines along the margins and a longer spine at the tip.
Contrary to its common name, the century plant typically blooms after 10-25 years of growth. Each plant gets only one chance, however, so they do it in style! The single flowering stalk can reach 30 feet in height and can produce a 6-foot wide panicle containing hundreds of 3-4 inch, greenish-yellow flowers. In Mexico, the huge flowering stalks of century plants and their close relatives are harvested for the sweet sap that can be fermented to produce pulque and then distilled to produce mezcal. Once flowering and fruiting are over, the main plant dies, but it can leave behind a small colony of offsets to start the process all over again.
If you’ve never watched a century plant go through its blooming process, then you’ve missed a spectacular show. When a specimen last bloomed at Potawatomi Conservatories, the flowering stalk hit the ceiling well before it completed its growth. This time around, maybe we can open the roof and let the plant show its full potential!
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