‘Century plant’ blooming at botanical garden
By Eric Sprott
CLEMSON — After storing up enough energy over the past 20 years, an agave plant at the South Carolina Botanical Garden is in its blooming stage.
And anyone hoping to get a look at the rare treat needs to do it quickly, as the plant isn’t exactly long for the world.
The agave Americana plant, located in the desert garden adjacent to the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, will die after the flowers bloom, according to SCBG director Patrick McMillan, who said there are about two weeks left in the plant’s life cycle.
And when looking for the plant, it’s hard to miss — over a two-week period, McMillan said, its stalk has grown to roughly 35 feet tall.
“The thing that’s amazing is we have a huge collection of agaves in the desert garden, but this one has been growing for over 20 years and just this year decided to bloom,” he said. “It’s just monstrous, and it puts on a huge display of candelabra yellow flowers that produces tons and tons of nectar.
“It only happens once in a blue moon, so it’s pretty neat to see what’s happening right now.”
The agave, commonly called a “century plant” in reference to how long it takes to bloom, is best known today as being the key ingredient in tequila, while it’s also a leading fiber source for rope.
However, the plant — formerly a critical source of nourishment in Mexico and the American Southwest — has also held a wealth of religious significance in centuries past.
Priests often drank pulque — an alcoholic drink fermented from the plant — during Aztec religious ceremonies, while it was also given to sacrificial victims to help ease their suffering. Agave thorns were also often used to draw blood during religious ceremonies.
“It’ll blow your mind,” McMillan said. “It’s hard to believe the thing shot up like a stalk of asparagus. The plant dies after it flowers, so it utilizes all the energy it has to make flowers only once in its lifetime.”
The botanical garden is open daily from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. at no charge on the Clemson University campus.
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