An Agave Plant's Rocketing Reach
Learn about the agave -- a succulent that can reach heights of 15 to 20 feet.
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By Donna Birch, Modesto Bee
Merle and Sharon Burch stared in awe at the front-yard plant that's become the talk of their Ceres, Calif., neighborhood.
Merle placed his hand on its trunk-like stalk and looked up, trying to determine how much it had grown since he last checked it.
He peered at the marks he etched along the thick stalk. Merle determined that the plant - a type of succulent called an agave - had grown 4 to 6 inches. And that was just in 24 hours.
In four weeks, the plant grew a whopping 12 feet. The Burches are floored by their agave's sudden growth spurt because for as long as they've had it, it lived a pretty much ho-hum existence at 2-1/2 feet.
"We've had it for 13 or 14 years, but it's never done anything like this before," Merle said.
The Burches learned that their agave - which has sparked inquiries and puzzled looks from curious neighbors and children - also is known as a century plant.
There are many varieties of century plant. Though uncertain of their species, the Burches' plant could be an Agave parryi.
The century plant's name is actually a misnomer. The plant blooms toward the end of its life, but that's not 100 years. Its life span is more like 20 to 25 years.
The Burches got their plant in the early 1990s from a neighbor. Merle planted the agave in a prominent spot in front of their home. Sharon and he loved it for its beauty and simplicity. With its thick, green-gray leaves with sharp, short spines along the edges, it looked like a big artichoke and stood no taller than Merle's knees.
It stayed that way for 14 years. But in early April, it started doing something "weird," as Merle described it.
The plant's center started to change color, turning from green-gray to a reddish-purple. Shortly after that, a colorful tip started to emerge from the plant's center and to grow. And grow.
Three weeks later, their 2-1/2-foot-tall "artichoke" looked more like a 10-foot tall asparagus from outer space.
So far, the plant has reached a height of about 15 feet and is two or three inches taller than the roof of their home. It has started to flower. Bracts have emerged toward the top of the stalk.
The Burches said they're having fun learning about the plant. They've combed books on succulents, looking for facts and folklore.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. After the plant reaches its ultimate height, possibly 15 to 20 feet, and flowers, it will die.
Over the years, however, the plant produced offshoots, called pups. So two decades from now, those plants will repeat the cycle.
This unassuming 1930's cottage is home to one of the most sophisticated and magical gardens in the country.