Century Plants

by Janet Hoffer (Island Gazette 6-29-05)

History Center - Agave

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The Century Plant beside the History Center is blooming and lots of people are asking about it. I found this article by Janet Hoffer, for those who don’t know about these unique plants.

 

You may have seen them around town. The prehistoric looking plant with the rosettes of thick, hard, rigid leaves. These plants, called Century Plants, are unique in their life cycle. They only bloom once, generally with a flowering stalk that can reach up to 40 feet and then often die.

Many people think that because of the name, these plants only bloom once every one hundred years, but what the name actually refers to is the fact that the odds of one blooming in any given year are one in one hundred.

The stalk which grows straight up from the middle of the plant produces yellow flowers composed of six petals, and blooms June through August. Flowers grow in clusters and face upward at the end of horizontal branches, appearing only near the top of the stalk. The flowers are ‘perfect’ with both male and female parts.

Members of the Amaryllis Family, the Century Plant provided Native Americans with a source of soap, food, fiber, medicine and weapons.

The Century Plant is sometimes grown in southern California as an ornamental. It is used commercially in Mexico as a source to produce the liquors tequila, pulque and mescal. It is the juice from the interior of the plant that is used to make tequila not the stalk and that is only from specific species. The stalk doesn’t have any juice in it because all the plant’s resources are used in growing the stalk.

Century Plants are native to only the southern most states in the USA with the greatest number in south Texas.