ANN ARBOR, MIch. -- It's still growing, and growing, and growing.
Like the beanstalk from the famous fable, the stalk of an 80-year-old American agave plant at the University of Michigan is so tall, it's through the roof of the conservatory of school's Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
It practically skims the sky at more than 25 feet, but it has yet to bloom.
The timing is difficult to predict, says Mike Palmer, horticulture manager for the gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Soon after the agave finally does flower for the first and only time in its life, it'll die.
So far, 18 branch-like structures, called peduncles, have emerged from its stalk, each of which has several flower buds, Palmer says. When the buds open, the flowers will be yellowish-green in color.
"I have not counted all the flower buds on the flower stalk since there are still side branches unfurling," Palmer says, "but the oldest (biggest) side branch has over 150 flower buds on it!"
Buzz about the plant has drawn big crowds of onlookers anxious to see it bloom.
"We've experienced a more than 50% increase in our visitors compared to the same time frame last year," says spokesman Joe Mooney. "We'll run another report when the agave is finished and my guess is that it will be even better than a 50% increase."
The best way to monitor the plant's progress is through the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum's Facebook page.
Palmer says although the plant will die after it flowers, it will leave behind many pups — genetic clones that look like mini versions of the mother agave — and potentially thousands of seeds.
Visitors will be able to buy some of those seeds and baby plants, if all goes as planned, Palmer says.
This agave — related to asparagus — is unusual because it was collected during a university botanical expedition to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 1934, and brought back to Ann Arbor by botanist Alfred Whiting, then a U-M graduate student. This variegated form of the American agave was collected from the wild, unlike most agaves sold today, which are cultivated from tissue samples, says Palmer.
Often called century plants because they bloom so infrequently, Palmer said in an interview last month that most agaves will bloom in nature in 10 to 25 years. The American agave is native to Texas and New Mexico, and also now can be seen in landscapes throughout the southwest. The plant can be used to make the alcoholic beverage called mezcal.