Because you searched for it: The Century Plant

(Quail Hollow signage. Photo by Robin. 2006)

One of the things I enjoy about WordPress is the stats page. On the stats page, in addition to the stats, there’s a neat little feature which shows me the search engine terms that brought people to my blog.

So, I was thinking, on the days I have nothing other than cleaning and weather to write about, I might attempt to answer the question which brought someone to visit me here at Life in the Bogs. My top post is, in fact, just that. I now provide the Wal-Mart associate number for calling off from work and boy, does it draw in the crowds. Not really crowds, but a goodly number of people are out there searching for that phone number.

This will also give me the opportunity to learn a little about various subjects, increasing my knowledge of trivia for that day I work up the guts to try out for Jeopardy (like Alto2 who is currently studying for her appearance on Jeopardy sometime this month).

The past few days have drawn people who are searching for how to care for a century plant. My mention of the century plant (as well as the before and after photos) from Longwood Gardens is why they ended up here.

Having no earthly idea how to care for one, I had to look it up. Here’s what I found:

  • The century plant is a cactus/succulent (an agave) native to the desert. It likes full sun (but will do okay in light shade), dry soil, and warm temperatures. It wouldn’t do well outdoors in the Bogs, that’s for sure, as it doesn’t like extremely cold temperatures.
  • It’s a very tall plant (6-12 feet), needing even more head space when the bloom spike shoots out and up (12-25 feet). It’s also wide and the sharp pointed spines on the leaf tip can be a hazard to humans and pets so you want to keep it away from foot traffic. Unless you have plenty of room for this plant, it’s advised not to plant it. That said, it does very well in a large pot so it seems to me that’s the way to go if you must have one and don’t have the room for it.
  • It’s moderately deer resistant. I think any deer that attempted to munch on a century plant would have to be a very hungry deer indeed. I suspect it’s mostly deer resistant and you aren’t likely to see many deer chowing down on this plant.
  • Hummingbirds like it, as do nectar-eating/drinking insects.
  • The century plant blooms in June or July.
  • Maintenance of the plant (removing dead or dying bottom leaves, etc.) sounds difficult due to the sharp spines.
  • Generally, the plant lives about 8-10 years. The mature plants dies after it blooms but it does provide off-shoots or “pups” that can be planted to start a new one. (A bit of trivia: Plants that die after flowering and fruiting once are monocarpic.)
  • The century plant is drought tolerant and suitable for xeriscaping.
  • If you cut the stem of the plant before it flowers, the nectar, called agua miel (“honey water”), gathers in the heart of the plant. This can be fermented and distilled to produce mezcal. Tequila is a form of mezcal that is made from the blue agave plant.
  • HOWEVER, you should be very careful not to get the sap/juice from the plant on your skin. It can be quite toxic, causing a painful, itchy rash that blisters and can take up to 4 weeks to go away completely.
  • Gardener’s notes on various websites are somewhat negative. The plant is aggressive, taking over the garden pretty quickly. It’s hard to contain although containment is possible by planting it in the ground in a clay pot. The spines and edges of the leaves are sharp and one description mentioned that getting impaled by the spines is extremely painful. But for those who live in desert conditions who know something about the plant, it did get good, sometimes rave, reviews as it is a stunning plant.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website has good information about the plant. Check it out if you want to learn more (especially the section at the bottom of the page “Mr. Smarty Plants Says”).

(Flower of the century plant at Longwood Gardens. Photo by Robin. June 2006)

A lot of people apparently want to know how to remove a century plant from their garden. I was unable to find any useful information on the subject. Perhaps someone else out there will know and leave a comment about it.