The University Record, December 12, 1995

Matthaei's agave ready to bloom, die

By Margaret Vergith
Matthaei Botanical Gardens

photo of agave After 20 years, the end is near for the Matthaei Botanical Gardens' Agave pedunculifera, which is preparing to bloom in the Conservatory's Desert House. The unusual succulent plant does not bloom yearly, but instead grows for 20 years or more before sending up a flowing stalk.

First noticed in early October by the Gardens' horticulturist, the quick-growing stalk, now nine feet tall, can grow several inches a day. Depending on species, the flower stalks may be six to 30 feet tall. Once the plant has blossomed, all of its energy spent producing the flower stalk, the mother plant dies. Future plants grow from seeds, bulbils and vegetative offshoots called pups.

Most agaves do not automatically bloom when they reach a certain age. Prevailing weather plays a role in stimulating flowering. Agaves grow in habitats that lack abundant rainfall or in which water drains quickly. Temperatures range from warm to extremely hot. The slow-growth habit and delayed blooming are survival adaptations to these conditions.

The agave may be seen 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for school-age children, free for pre-school children. Complimentary admission is available 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays.

The Gardens are located at 1800 N. Dixboro Road. For information, call 998-7061.