A botanical bid for freedom...
Kew's Agave abrupta is breaking through the roof of the Princess of Wales Conservatory
09 Jul 2010
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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