Kew's Agave abrupta makes a botanical bid for freedom in the Princess of Wales Conservatory
16 July 2010
After 15 years of growing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory’s cacti zone at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the 'century plant' (Agave abrupta) is about to flower for the first time in its life. At 6 metres tall, its flower stalk has now burst through the top of the Conservatory roof, and vents have been opened and a pane of glass removed to allow it to escape. It will be in full flower in approximately two weeks time.
The century plant matures slowly and dies after flowering, but continues its lineage by producing offsets at the base of the stem throughout its life (as well as large quantities of seed), which are easily propagated. The name 'century plant' refers to the long time it takes to flower, but is in fact a misnomer, as in reality it takes a mere 10 to 20 years in a warm climate. The flower spikes are very large, reaching 10 metres or more. Its bright yellow-green flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds in the wild.
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Native to tropical America, the century plant was introduced to Padua Botanical Garden (the world's first botanical garden) in 1561 and is now widely cultivated throughout the world. The species is now naturalised in the driest parts of southern Europe, and is often used for fencing in Mexico and Central America, as it is impermeable to both cattle and people once established due to its size and needle-sharp spines. It was introduced to Spain in the 1940s for the production of sisal for rope, but subsided due to the arrival of nylon and synthetic ropes. In addition, the fermented juice of the Agave plant is used to make the drink mescal.
Professor Stephen Hopper, the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says, “We are extremely excited here at Kew to catch a glimpse of the century plant at the peak of its lifecycle. Visitors who come to Kew over the next month will get a rare opportunity to see a truly impressive botanical occurrence. This year at Kew, we are celebrating International Year of Biodiversity, and this specimen is a great example of the beauty, joy and economic use that we get from the plants we share our planet with.”
Phil Griffiths, Displays Co-ordinator, is available for interview. Please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on 020 8332 5607 or email email@example.com
Images are available to download from www.kew.org/press/images. Please contact the press office for a username and password.
- Opening hours: 9.30am – 6.30pm (weekdays), 9.30 – 7.30pm (weekends)
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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10% of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species) and aim to conserve 25% by 2020.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership has already achieved so much, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas. Members of the public can support the work of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership by getting involved with the ‘Adopt a Seed, Save a Species' campaign. For £25 an individual can adopt a seed or for £1000 anyone can save an entire species.
‘Biodiversity Year at Kew’ in 2010 will celebrate the importance of plant diversity in underpinning biodiversity through a programme of themed and seasonal horticultural displays, art exhibitions, educational activities for all the family and scientific announcements. For a full programme of events see www.kew.org/press/2010.html
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is part of the world-wide celebrations of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, and is one of over 300 UK organisations, charities and groups supporting this global awareness campaign. The diversity of life on earth is crucial for human well-being and now is the time to act to preserve it. For information on events, initiatives and exhibitions across the UK during 2010 visit www.biodiversityislife.net
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