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'Century Plant' At IU Greenhouse Reaches Striking Heights

The "century plant" at IU's Jordan Hall Greenhouse.

The "bloom stalk" in the center of the plant could grow up to 30 feet tall. (Zach Herndon, WTIU/WFIU News)

A towering 50-year-old agave plant is forcing Indiana University’s Jordan Hall Greenhouse to make way for its rare blossoms.

The greenhouse staff had to remove a glass ceiling tile to allow the plant to grow through the roof. Greenhouse supervisor John Lemon says it could eventually stretch to 30 feet tall.

"Eventually, the bloom shoot will get lateral branches which will have lots of flowers out on the ends of those flower stalks," he says.

Despite its nickname as the "century plant," the hardy agave Americana only lives up to 30 years in the wild. It blooms at the end of its life. The plant has been at the Jordan Hall Greenhouse since before Lemon began working there in 1972.

"That’s how we know it’s probably 50 years old or more, just because of how long I’ve been here," he says.

The term “century plant” can refer to several species of agave, which are desert plants native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. One species of the plant is used to make tequila.

The plant’s bloom shoot, as Lemon calls it, now reaches almost eight feet above the greenhouse roof. Lemon says the plant’s bloom cycle could last for several more months.

He says fans of the plant can track its progress via updates on the greenhouse’s Facebook page.

The bloom stalk of the century plant extends through the roof of the Jordan Hall Greenhouse at IU Bloomington.
The bloom stalk of the century plant extends seven to eight feet above the roof of the Jordan Hall Greenhouse in Bloomington. 

 

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