Does it really take 100 years for “century plants” to bloom?
Our question comes from Central Texas Gardener’s Facebook page.
First, century plant is Agave americana. And no, it doesn’t take 100 years to bloom! Okay, a little more detail: Agave Americana DOES take a very long time to bloom, but it’s far less than a century. It’s more like a decade or two, and usually somewhere between 10 and 30 years.
Unlike most plants, which you probably want to bloom immediately, and year after year, this is one that you want to wait as long as possible to bloom, since once it does, the main plant will die. This is the same thing with all agaves, since they are monocarpic, meaning that they die after blooming.
And while there are few things more beautiful than a large century plant in bloom, there are few things uglier than a dead one. As soon as century plants and other agave species start blooming, I get inundated with calls from frantic people who know enough about agaves to panic at the first sight of its delicate little floral bud. Everyone wants to know if they can stop this process and keep the parent plant alive.
Unfortunately, the answer is no. This is one area of nature that man has yet to figure out how to tame, so you should just enjoy that beautiful bloom stalk. In the case of Agave americana, it will be striking, getting up to 30 feet tall.
BUT, these bloom stalks can actually be hazardous, since as they grow and mature, the mother plant is slowly dying, giving that lanky bloom stalk less stability with each passing day. Eventually, if you don’t remove the plant first, the top-heavy bloom stalk will topple over and rip the dead agave out of the ground. That could make for quite a mess, and even some damage to surrounding structures.
Some people even stake the bloom stalk to balance its weight. If you like, you can collect the seeds from your agave and replant.
But even before flowering, most likely you’ll have baby plants (offsets) around the mother plant. These plantlets are basically little clones, and can be dug up and planted in other areas of your landscape, or placed in containers, so that you’ll have a replacement for that spot when the original plant dies.