Two Great Locations, One Organization

Last April a volunteer with the Southeast Michigan Cactus and Succulent Society noticed an unusual stalk poking out from the leaves of the variegated American agave (Agave americana) in the conservatory at Matthaei. Turns out it was a flower stalk. Pretty soon it was growing six inches a day. Finally, around the first week of July, the agave’s flowers began to open.

A view of the agave from above when workers came out last August to collect flower buds for the U-M Herbarium.

We’ve seen agaves bloom in the past here but no others have quite captured the public’s imagination—or the media’s attention—like this one. Part of the appeal was the agave’s age when it finally bloomed. In nature the American agave usually flowers at 20 years or so.

Just as we wrinkle with age, so our agave began wrinkling later in the summer after it had finished blooming. Eventually, the parent plant will die when it’s finished setting seed

Collected in Mexico in 1934 by graduate student Alfred Whiting, our 80-year-old plant for some reason picked 2014 as The Year to Bloom. The fact that the parent plant would die after blooming only added to the drama.

The agave as it looked on April 30, 2014. No drooping here!

Extensively covered in local, national, and international media, including USA Today, Smithsonian.com, Associated Press, and NPR’s Morning Edition, the agave drew thousands of visitors to the Gardens. So many that visitor numbers and total revenue for July 2014 at the parking kiosks, Garden Store, and donation box were double those from the previous year.

And as it looked on August 1. Exhausted.

As of this writing seed pods have begun to form and we’re praying for a few pups—plantlets that are genetically identical to the parent—to appear. And one person even wants a part of the stalk to make a didgeridoo. Stay tuned for the final story of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens great American agave bloom of 2014.

A seed pod from the agave reveals hundreds of immature seeds neatly lined up.

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