Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Century plant

We've been watching as our desert plant has rather mysteriously started to sprout a stalk...from the middle of the plant.

We thought we had purchased an agave plant when we moved to our winter home in Mesa, Arizona, three years ago. It was just a little plant, but has sprawled out considerably in the last couple of years.

But recently, a chute came up out of the middle and has been very slowly working its way upward.

It's the oddest thing we've ever seen. I wanted my husband to cut off the chute because it looked so strange. But he was intrigued and said to let it grow and see what it becomes.

Then out of the chute came sprout-like buds. We didn't know if they would open, if they'd flower and bloom, or just what they would do. The whole plant was a mystery to us.

I asked around and it was my hairdresser who told me we probably have a century tree plant. She said if that's what it is, she heard it only blooms once a century.

Who knew?

What was once just a small ground plant that fit into a small brick circle has turned into this sprawled out and blooming thing that is sprouting a tree. Apparently, and the picture doesn't even capture the full height of it, it continues to grow.

A web search gave us a lot of information:
If ever there was a plant that had an identity crisis, it would be the Agave americana. This plant, commonly known by the nickname “century plant,” is also known by the incorrect name of American aloe. Century plants are native to Mexico, but are used as an ornamental plant all over the world and have become naturalized, growing wild in many places. A century plant does not, however, live for a century or take 100 years to bloom.
The century plant’s leaves spread out from a central core, resembling a rosette. The plant, which actually takes an average of 15 years to flower, does not look like much until it comes time for it to bloom. A large stalk, 15 to 40 feet (4.572 to 12.192 meters) high and as thick as a tree trunk, shoots up from the middle of the plant and produces hundreds of clustered white or yellow flowers. The blooms remain on the century plant for about a month before the stalk begins to wither and die, killing off the rest of the plant with it.

So I guess we have to wait fifteen years through its growing pains until we see blooms and lovely flowers. Hmmmm....

Life in the desert is interesting as we Midwesterners are learning all the time. It is a breathtaking and awesome part of the American landscape and makes us feel close to the earth as Native Americans cared for this land so beautifully for so long. The majestic mountains and the endless variety of cactus plants and desert blooms teach us that things endure for thousands of years without human interference.

Our century plant, like all plants, have a life of their own. If you care properly for them but let them grow on their own terms, it's amazing what living things of beauty they become.

Kind of like us, huh?