Plain Gardening: Century Plant

Plain Gardening: Century Plant

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Here's a plant I've heard of but never seen—until now:  the century plant.  Bill Finch with Mobile Botanical Gardens says it's an agave, a member of the lily family.

It's called a century plant because when it was first taken to England from its native Mexico, it took forever to bloom in the new climate.  Along the Gulf Coast, conditions are more like home, and the plant actually blooms about every 15 years or so…and when it does it's pretty spectacular. 

For years, the plant looks decorative and dangerous, with its long graceful leaves topped by sharp spikes. It's between three and four feet tall. Then, over the course of a week or two, it shoots out a trunk-like stem over twenty feet high and topped with flowers.  All that energy saps the strength of the mother plant, and the century plant dies after it blooms.

But it sends out tiny shoots (and sometimes seeds) and a new century plant will take the place of the old.

The sap of the century plant is rich nectar that attracts flies.  Century plants are also used to make tequila.  To learn more about century plants, go to mobilebotanicalgardens.org.

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