| Abby Phillip |
WASHINGTON (WP-BLOOM) – American agave plants are known for their fairly fatalistic life cycles: Live, die, repeat.
After blooming, the plants are expected to die shortly thereafter, usually leaving behind clones of themselves in the form of seeds.
But the plant at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens adds yet another layer of intrigue to the American agave’s story line.
This particular agave grew to be 28 feet tall and blew past its 25-year life expectancy by waiting a full 80 years to finally bloom.
Now, it’s finally dying.
“There’s really no value to leaving it up anymore, because it’s going downhill so quickly,” Mike Palmer, the horticulture manager at the garden told the Associated Press. Palmer added that the Matthaei staff plans to chop down the plant next month.
In its prime however, the plant was triumphant.
Think it looks like a giant asparagus spear? Well, you’re not wrong. Technically, the American agave is in the asparagus family — except maybe a lot weirder than the stuff that’s sold at the grocery store.
Since 1934, when this particular plant arrived at Matthaei Botanical Gardens from Mexico, it’s been relatively slow going. Basically nothing unusual happened until last year, when it became clear that the decades-long wait for the plant’s bloom would finally be over.
In May, it had a massive growth spurt, adding nearly six inches a day.
The growth was so significant that workers had to remove a glass pane in the ceiling so that it could have more room to bloom.
What makes this agave’s 80-year life span so unusual is that in nature, American agave plants usually flower after about 10 to 25 years, according to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Why the plant flowers when it does is just another of nature’s many mysteries.
“No one knows for sure what combination of environmental conditions induces flowering,” Palmer said. “And it’s rare for one to bloom indoors. Of course, being in a conservatory helps!”
The good news is, the dying plant will live on through its offspring.
But in another twist, this agave did not actually produce seeds that were expected to be clones of the original.
“Instead, they’ll use the seeds from the pods to create a new agave where it now stands, although the new agave will be slightly different,” said Palmer, who cared for the plant during the past 15 years. “It was a good run,” he said.
A native of the Southwestern United States and Mexico, the American agave has evolved to survive in pretty harsh, low-water environments. So the plants produce hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds, giving them the best chance that a few might actually survive.
This agave’s seeds are already being planted – although by the time they bloom, it’ll perhaps be something for your (great) grandchildren to see.