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Circle of Life Starts Countdown for College’s Venerable Agave Plant

By Darryl E. Owens

Author Srikumar Rao once observed that “a plant is the most patient and forgiving teacher.”

That probably goes double for one taking up residence on a college campus. At Beacon, a plant that over the years garnered perhaps a passing glance from students and faculty, now commands center stage as it performs an impressive botanical swan song.

Behind the college’s Anthrozoology building stands a large agave plant that has entered its “death bloom” stage. For a brief time, the plant telescopes straight up an asparagus-looking pole that can top out at 30 feet tall before perishing.

Currently, the Beacon bloomer measures just over 16′ 3″ tall.

Agave americana

Agave americana, or more commonly known as American Aloe, American Century Plant, Century Plant, or Mexican Soap Plant, is a “rosette-forming herbaceous perennial succulent in the Asparagaceae family,” according to the North Carolina State University Extension Service website. “The common name arose because it was once thought it took 100 years for the plant to flower.”

The blooming period is between 10 to 25 years. While blooming, the plant dedicates its energy to sending “up a single flowering stalk from the center of the leaves reaching 15-30′ tall or more,” according to the extension service. Eventually, that stalk sprouts greenish-yellow flowers.

This flowering process also kills the main plant.

On campus, the lesson the plant must teach is simple. The circle of life continues: the mother agave plant “has left a few babies to grow in its place,” said Beacon facilities director David O’Brien.