Century plants are flowering across the county.
In case you haven’t noticed, scores of the big succulents are shooting up huge bloom spikes.
That’s a good thing, because the flower spikes are interesting and impressive. It’s also a bad thing because, once a century plant, known as blue agave, flowers, it dies leaving behind a mass of small “pups.”
I’ve received numerous calls about the agave flowers including several from folks claiming to have the largest flowering century plant.
So far, the biggest I’ve seen is one in the backyard of Willie Irvine’s island home but the agave on the corner of Avenue F by the Bryant House bed and breakfast in Apalachicola and one near Chillas Hall in Lanark Village are both close seconds.
“Why are they all blooming?” asked Terry Kemp of St. George Island.
Mark Weathington, assistant director of the Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University, said the age of the plant and unusual weather could play a role.
He said that in the wild under dessert conditions, century plants may actually take 80 to 100 years to mature and flower; hence the name. In richer soil and with irrigation, they usually take only 10 to 20 years to reach maturity.
Weatherington said it was possible weather conditions, including abundant rainfall last summer, could have helped trigger the widespread flowering.
Don Harrigan, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, said last summer was a wet one here. Most residents will remember Tropical Storm Debbie brought record rains in June and the wet weather continued through September.
Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery, also in North Carolina, is an agave expert. He said the flowering process began in 2012, likely last summer. He agreed that agaves that are watered mature more rapidly than those growing wild.
“At some point, the plant switches from vegetative growth to flowering,” he said. “Once that happens, you can’t turn back. It’s kind of like being pregnant.”
By the way, removing the flower spike will not stop the plant from dying.
Avent suggested the mass flowering might be related more to the origin of the plants than weather conditions.
“It’s possible many of the plants are second-generation clones of a single parent,” he said. “Plants with the same origin planted in the same yard won’t all flower at once but they will flower within a few years of each other.”
He suggested that since Franklin County receives about seven times as much rain as the agave’s native habitat, the plants might mature about seven times as fast, putting the year of origin of all the clones flowering now at around 2000.
On a related note, Weatherington said he spent his summers at Indian Pass as a child at a beach house belonging to his grandfather, Tom Weatherington, who was a physician for Franklin County’s health department. Mark’s father, Lee, grew up in Apalachicola.