A botanical bid for freedom...

Kew's Agave abrupta is breaking through the roof of the Princess of Wales Conservatory

09 Jul 2010

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Agave abrupta emerges through the roof of the Princess of Wales Conservatory

The Agave abrupta emerging from the roof vents of the Princess of Wales Conservatory (Image: Paul Little, RBG Kew)

Native to tropical America, the 'century plant' (Agave abrupta) was introduced to Padua Botanical Garden (the world's first botanical garden) in 1561 and is now widely cultivated throughout the world. Indeed, the species is now widely naturalised in the driest parts of southern Europe.

They mature slowly and are monocarpic (they die after flowering), but continue the lineage by producing offsets at the base of the stem throughout their life which are easily propagated. The name 'century plant' refers to the long time it takes to flower, but in fact it is a misnomer, as in reality it takes a mere 10 - 20 years in a warm climate. The flower spikes are huge, reaching 10 m or more, and bear large yellow-green flowers.

The species 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. As a result, when using it in an ornamental setting, be careful not to plant it near paths or walkways!

The specimen currently flowering in the Princess of Wales Conservatory was planted about 15 years ago and its flower stalk has now burst through the top of the Conservatory roof. Vents have been opened and a pane of glass removed to allow it to escape, and it is sure to cause comment in the coming weeks.

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2 comments on 'A botanical bid for freedom...'

Kew Feedback team says

23/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Hi Geoffrey, thanks for your comment. We reckon that our Agave will flower within the next month, and then it could take several more weeks to die down.

Geoffrey Glover says

21/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

An amazing co-incidence is that an Agave we have in Provence has just done the same thing. We have owned the property for over 20 years and it was a mature plant in 1989 but over recent weeks it has shot up to over 6m high for the first time. Picture can be supplied. Does anyone know how long the 'erection will last for?

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