Century Plant:
A Mysterious Giant Among Us

So we have this giant and amazing plant growing, expanding and budding in the front of our new home; an agave.

Not only is it thriving in a massive way (as most plants seem to do here in the Sonoran Desert) but in the spring it began to sprout an amazing, gigantic single asparagus-like shoot from its’ center. It was as if Claes Oldenburg had secretly sneaked on to our property and created a single, simple veggie garden just for us.

Who knew?
As this fabulous and enormous living thing continues to emerge and to tower over everything around it including our house, the stories regarding its’ name, blossoming process and uses are increasing as well. Folklore has it that the Native American Indians used the shaft of this mega flower for an instrument much like the didgeridoo in Australia. We had the privilege of observing the performance of an ancient American Indian chant, using this particular instrument, last fall in Tucson. Little did we know at that time, that we would soon have the unique materials to actually make one of our own, later this year.

Related to the aloe? To the amaryllis?
There is some confusion about the actual species of agave which thrives so prominently, directly in the front of our home and outside the room which my husband uses as his music studio. Someone told us last weekend that if you put your ear next to the stalk, it is possible to hear the plant growing. On some recent, very hot days, we could have sworn that perhaps we actually watched its’ quickening nascence. Another visitor to our home believes that the Century Plant exerts all of its’ energy in the production of the flowers and then expires once it has done so.

Will it die? We continue to wonder as we observe this fascinating creature’s daily changes.

We believe that the giant which dominates the front of our home is either an Agave Americanus or an Agave Tequilana; one will die after it has formed the reproductive blossoms (Tequilana) and one, according to the information that we can find, will not (Americanus).

And yes, the Agave Tequilana plant is used to make that famous intoxicating drink with the fat little worm at the bottom of the bottle. Tequila is produced by removing the heart of the plant in its twelfth year, normally weighing between 35-90 kg. The heart is stripped of leaves and heated to remove the sap, which is then fermented and distilled. Other beverages such as
Mezcal and Pulque are also produced from blue and other agaves by different methods (still using the sap) and are regarded as more traditional.

Sorting through the folklore...
Local conventions and beliefs about this Century Plant seem to be varied, the information obscure and somewhat contradictory. Our own research has narrowed the stories down to a few possible truths which of course will be confirmed or abated as the flower continues to evolve and materialize before our very eyes.

In any case, we shall wait and see.

As time reveals the process, there will be more reports to come.

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robert stevenson said...

This plant looks amazing! I have never seen anything like it. Thanks for including all ogf the information for us to read up on the century plant and the agave. I like your blog a lot.

Bella said...

I enjoy your blog -- and this item is very interesting to me. I have seen plants such as this one in Australia and in Central America.

Hanson W-T said...

Huge aspargus plants in front of your house? Yikes. Claes must be lurking in your yard some where I think. Is he drunk too?

Marie S. said...

wow! i didn't know that tequila was made from a plant like this one. you blog is cool.

natalie said...

we like your blog here in ireland but i do not imagine that we can grow your plants here

susanne barclay said...

You may be correct about the distinction between the Agave Americanus and the Agave Tequilana. I hope yours survives. Good luck.

tommykitkat said...

good blog. keep writing. don't distill anything until i get there.

jo said...

whats really amazing is when you go out into the desert and you see these fallen sprouts. they remind me a little of the trees that litter the ground after a wild fire... spent.