Back in 1987, a rare event occurred in the Tucker greenhouse. An Agave plant, commonly known as a ‘century plant’, produced an inflorescence stalk. This event was considered rare because it can take an Agave plant most of its life (10-30 years) to initiate a bloom stalk.
The problem was that this stalk could reach heights of 25-30 ft (7-10 m), and it did. In the greenhouse where the plant was growing, the roof was too short and the plant needed more space. Gary Schnurbusch, the Tucker greenhouse manager at the time, simply decided that a pane of glass on the roof had to be removed in order to let this beautiful inflorescence stalk bloom in its full glory. The stalk continued to grow outside and above the greenhouse roof by another 4-6 ft (1-2 m) The following photos were taken back in 1987 documenting this event.
Gary Schnurbusch posing with the Agave plant in 1987
Agave inflorescence stalk beginning to grow in the center of the plant.
Another angle of the bloom stalk.
Stalk has now grown so tall that a pane of glass is removed to keep the stalk from hitting the glass roof.
Another angle, showing the stalk outside.
Look closely and see the stalk going through the roof.
Plastic cover is added to protect the stalk as it is still cold outside in Missouri. Note the leaf-less outdoor trees.
The stalk is growing taller still, and spring is on its way. Note the blooming tree outside the greenhouse.
As time passes, the inflorescence stalk gets taller still. Leaves on the outdoor trees are filling in.
Now the inflorescence stalk is beginning to branch and become more like a panicle.
Last photo taken, final height almost 30 ft (10 m)
Agave americana is in the Asparagaceae family, and Agavoideae subfamily. The common name of ‘Century plant’ refers to the length of time it takes this plant to finally initiate a bloom stalk (not really 100 years, but it seems like it). Sadly, once the plant blooms, it dies. In a short amount of time though, it sends up another new plant or sucker from its root system.
Agaves have spear-like, gray-green leaves with prickly margins. They are highly drought tolerant as well. They’re native to Mexico and the desert southwestern United States. Agaves are very important economically speaking too. From an Ethnobotanical point of view, the humble Agave plant gives us Agave nectar (sweetener), Tequila, Pulque, and fiber for rope making, just to name a few. Agave flowers are pollinated by insects, nectar-eating bats, and hummingbirds.