The Farewell Bloom

September 15, 2023

We've had a lot of new-to-us things occur this spring into summer. New wildflowers in our yard. Our bird of paradise bloomed for the first time. Our Italian Cypress made cones, and our jojoba produced nuts.

But the biggest (and I mean BIG!) was our Century Plant (Agave Americana) bloomed. I tracked its progress with a series of photos of me standing next to it, but it was still difficult to measure how tall the bloom stalk was getting. The flower buds were growing and we anticipated them opening somewhat soon.

Progress of a century plant bloom

Then on June 19th, we had intense winds in the area.

Late afternoon on that day, I heard a thud from outside. I started out the front door to investigate. I stopped in my tracks.

Oh! That's strange, I thought to myself. The agave leaves are covering part of our front walkway. My first thought was that the leaves suddenly drooped.

Progress of a century plant bloom

That's weird, I thought to myself.

OH! I realized towering over me and the walkway was the agave bloom! I hurried under and past the stalk to get out of danger's way, and turned around to observe. The wind had pushed the entire agave over and the stalk was leaning “gently” against the edge of the roof. That's where the thud came from.

Progress of a century plant bloom

I mulled over what to do. All I was envisioning was one more powerful gust of wind and this thing was landing on my Yellow Bird of Paradise, roses, white sage, rabbit brush, and a pricklypear.

I decided to grab our folding ladder. I hauled it over to the precariously leaning agave, and visually placed it where I thought the agave would slide if the agave continued in the direction it was headed, hoping it would provide a platform to catch the stalk.

About an hour and a half later, I heard a crash. I peeked outside and the Century Plant had tipped more and fallen onto the ladder. Then the ladder itself tipped over and everything came crashing down — but missed every plant and landed in our open dirt garden pathway!

The stalk was blocking our entranceway to our house. Not a big deal to us because we could step over it, but kind of a big deal for any deliveries to the door. Sean chopped away at the stalk to separate it from the base. Once it was in two pieces, we moved the stalk out of the way.

I measured it. The floral stalk had grown nearly 30 feet and with the height of the agave base, the Century Plant got to over 30 feet before it blew over.

There were a few observations we made afterwards.

First, we determined that it must have bloomed due to agave weevil damage, which is something that has been infesting and killing agaves and Joshua trees in the area, including many of our garden's agaves. There weren't any roots attached anymore. Damage to the center was visible. It had just been waiting to tip over using its weight to keep it in place, and when those Mojave winds blew in, that flower stalk acted as a sail and capsized it.

Progress of a century plant bloom

Progress of a century plant bloom

Second, we kept the stalk in our yard for a while to see if it would continue on its way to opening its flowers. The critters didn't mind. The squirrels snacked on the flower buds. The rabbits gnawed at the stalk. Eventually, it was time for us to move this giant thing out of the way. We cut off the flower branches and left them in a pile to deal with later. We moved the stalk out of the center of the pathway and decided, for now, to use it as a garden path border! The best thing? We noticed after a few weeks that the flowers actually opened up on the cut flower branches! Probably not as spectacular as they would have been high up in the sky on the living plant, but they were still pretty.

Progress of a century plant bloom

So that was our BIG surprise of the early summer. The stalk is still a garden border, for now. The sun is bleaching it as it dries out, and the rabbits are helping to slowly whittle it away.

A tall century plant bloom silhouette against a sunset sky