By Diana Sunseri
If you pass its way in your neighborhood travels, you can’t help but notice the monstrous agave plant commandeering the northwest corner of Second Avenue and 22nd Street. The tumble of leathery leaves – some upright, some curvy – wave like bluish-green spears 10 or more feet in the air. With thorns edging its blades, the plant has the appearance of a prehistoric species.
The large succulent is turning heads anew these days, this time with a show and a bit of a mystery. A thick, Jack-in-the- Beanstalk stem suddenly sprouted from its core a few months ago, rising at least 20 feet in the air and climbing. Then the stem sprouted branches fringed with fingerlings of yellow flowers.
Neighbors say the sudden appearance of the giant stem has caused fascination, admiration – and worry. “I work from home, so I see people stopping to check it out literally 20 times a day,” said Jessica Vega, who lives across the street. “They take photos of it, they take photos with it, people lay under it – I’m not sure why. It’s amazing!”
Craig Reynolds of California Agave Ventures, a Yolo County agave grower, identified the plant as an agave americana, commonly called a century plant.
“They grow slowly for many years, then bloom only once in their lives, emitting a long central stem, the quiote,” Reynolds said. If pollinated, the flowers eventually form seeds – “then the stalk and entire plant die.”
The seeds fall to the ground; some may produce new plants. Not all agaves are monocarpic, a type of plant that flowers just once, then dies. The chemical change the agave americana goes through to produce the giant stalk, fruit and seeds takes all of the plant’s energy. The mother literally gives her life for her future babies. She can also produce pups and future plants through underground horizontal stems called rhizomes, which the agave already has accomplished.
Most agave americanas live 10 to 30 years despite their “century plant” name, although an extremely well cared for agave americana in a university greenhouse in Michigan was 80 years old when it bloomed in 2014. The stalk grew so high that it burst through the greenhouse ceiling.
Neighbors estimate the Second Avenue agave is about 30 years old.