D: What do you have there, Yaël? Is that some sort of an aloe plant?
Y: No, Don, it's an agave. Like aloe, it is a succulent, meaning it has a number of characteristics that help it survive hot, dry desert climates. That's not what drew me to this little beauty though. I bought it for my garden because it's a monocarpic plant, and a spectacular one at that.
Y: That means it flowers just once, and then it dies.
D: Why in heck would you buy a plant that flowers only once?
Y: This isn't just any old flower, Don. The cool thing about agaves is that when they do finally flower--and it can take them many, many years, sometimes decades--they're not kidding around. You see how the agave is in the shape of a rosette?
Y: It will look like this year after year, getting a little larger, but that's about it, until one year, when it's ready, a thick stem or mast will shoot up from the center of the rosette in a matter of days and grow to a staggering height.
D: How high?
Y: On some agaves, the mast may grow to about 6 to 8 feet. The most spectacular of the agaves is Agave americana, otherwise known as the Century Plant. Its mast can grow as high as thirty feet before flowering.
D: Wow. And then after all that it, the plant just dies? Why?
Y: A chemical change in the agave causes it to redirect all of its resources towards the creation of its fruits and seeds. There's nothing left for the rest of the plant. Of course, if all goes well with its spectacular flowering, life will continue on.