Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Century plants, my ...

Ok, so "community journalism" can take you some strange places. One of my co-workers for example recently went on a dangerous assignment to cover the blooming of a Century Plant - which happened to nearly coincide with the 97th birthday of the plant's owner. Pretty nice, eh?

I say the story was dangerous because the spiny plant, also known as the American Agave, poked the intrepid reporter. Besides drawing blood, this also drew suspicion as the entire event took place on an ominous day, that of 06/06/06 - which, if you take all the zeros out, can make a scary number.

Then tonight I happen to catch a glimpse of a local TV station's news story about another family with their own Century Plant that suddenly bloomed. While on one hand, I felt a little vindicated that even local TV news has to cover stories about people's plants growing - on the other hand, I gave an at-home, imaginary high-five to my co-worker for scooping the television station.

And on that most important third hand, I realized - hold up, wait a minute - are these so-called Century Plants really just alien pods suddenly communicating with one another in a towering show of force? Why the rash of blooming agave?

So I did a little research. Apparently the plants are more likely to bloom once in about 25 years, and usually die after blooming (like a wasp - told you this was a dangerous, aggressive plant). In case you were too lazy to click on the article links, but are still reading, the local homeowners claim the plants are growing at rapid rates - 12 inches per day and 20 feet in a week. Quoth one resident upon first noticing the stalk that can grow up to 40 feet tall, "Oh, my God, what is that?" (an alien antenna, I tell you).

Still, why the rash of blooms? Is there something particular about this season's weather cycle that has nourished the plants, making for a virulent harvest of Agave bloom? Is there a reason why, about 25 years ago, quite a few of these were planted (a sale at the local nursery? a strong, seed-filled wind? a passionate and quirky developer?)? Or are there really just two well publicized Century Plants blooming in the area, and the second family one-upped the first after reading the newspaper?

After seeing several blooming century plants along I-5, I have an idea: they may've been planted in 1976, as some sort of centennial/bicentennial thing, and perhaps this year had just the right conditions for most of them to bloom...

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