Going out with a bang…the century plant that doesn’t live up to it’s name

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Agave americana, Fuente de Cantos, Extremadura, Spain, October 2015

One of the most astonishing natural sights on the Via de la Plata. Arriving, hot and tired from the walk that day, we sat on a bar terrace with a couple of nice, cold glasses, and there it was. So tall that I almost missed the top of it with the camera.  Agave americana, sometimes called the century plant, reaches an impressive height when flowering. The link to the Eden Project page above gives 9m as the likely maximum flowering height, and I would say that the one we saw was in that ballpark.  As you can see, it had been clipped and trimmed to maximise the impression of height and protect customers from the very sharp leaf spikes.  That night there was a massive storm, but it was still standing in the morning.

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Flowerheads, Agave americana, October 2015

The flowerheads, when they are at their best, are bright yellow and striking- in my photograph, you can see that they have almost gone over.  The whole plant dies after flowering, having consumed vast amounts of energy to produce the inflorescence. It was once thought that the Agave americana flowered only once a century, hence the name, but we now know that a more likely lifespan is around 30 years.  It grows slowly and is mainly propagated by rhizomatous offsets that congregate around the parent plant as it grows.

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Agave americana, El Real de la Jara, Andalucia, Spain, September 2015

The agave’s favourite landscape. Hilly, rough, stony and poor, the agave will rapidly colonise an area if allowed to.  The sap of the plant can be harvested to form agave syrup, the heart of the plant can also be eaten and baked- it is a member of the asparagus family. There are numerous medical uses for the plant, stored as dried material in Central America. The link above takes you to the ‘Plants for a Future’ website, one of my favourites, covering ecology, sustainability and plant use knowledge.

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Agave americana, rhizomatous offsets clustering by the dead parent plant, September 2015

And now for something completely different.

Campsis radicans Merida October 2015

Campsis radicans, Merida, October 2015

On a rest day in the incredible, and unknown to us, city of Merida, we visited the outstanding Roman amphitheatre site- one of many superb and surprising Roman ruins in the city. There, twined around a Roman pillar, was the eye-catching Campsis radicans or Trumpet Vine. It is a thing of beauty. And growing in the hot dust of Merida, perhaps it is unlikely to indulge it’s thuggish tendencies to muscle in and go for world domination. The Merida plant had wonderful flame striations of orange cutting through the red, which really took my eye.

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Campsis radicans, Merida, October 2015.

In Tostat, I have planted a close relative, Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’, and for a while, I thought I should give up gardening as it seemed to grow like a weed for anyone else in Tostat except me. But now, some years later, it is doing fine, though obstinately flowering on the road-side of the wall rather than our side.  Stubbornness seems to be a feature of Trumpet Vine!

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Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’, Tostat, June 2015





One thought on “Going out with a bang…the century plant that doesn’t live up to it’s name

  1. Nearly every year, I get a call from nongardener who wants me to identify a plant in their yard which was just this green spiky thing for a long time, but has all of a sudden started to grow a huge stalk…of course it is Agave americana. People are always so amazed!

    Liked by 1 person

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