What would it be like if you lived 80 years, bloomed briefly, and then died? All that time spent getting ready for your one main event…it’s kind of sad, when you think about it. Well, that’s the fate of a rare American agave plant that finally came into its own in Michigan. Read on to find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has had the agave for eight decades now. This spring, it started shooting up six inches a day, and has now reached 27 feet tall. The flowering is kind of on the quiet side, so far.
The agave produces delicate, yellow flowers by the thousand. The plant, which is in the same family as the asparagus, has drawn crowds; some students have come back weekly to see its progress. The flowering will go on for weeks, and then the agave will die.
But it’s like a phoenix, rising from its own ashes. The botanists expect the plant will leave behind thousands of seeds, and also pups—genetic clones of itself. If there are enough, visitors will be able to try their hand at growing their own.
The agave came to Michigan after a university collecting trip to San Luis Potosi in Mexico—in 1934. It also grows wild in Texas and New Mexico, but in the wild will bloom in 25 years. Agave seeds were an important source of food for Native Americans in the southwest, and if you know where to look, you can see the pits where they baked the seeds.
The American agave may not be one of the most beautiful flowers in the botanical garden, but it’s certainly popular, drawing 50 percent more visitors to see it. And why not? When rare plants do rare things, it’s worth a look. When you’re 80, you can tell the story of the time you saw an 80-year-old flower reach the apex of its life.