Did you know that agaves are neither cacti nor succulents? They are monocots, which makes them more closely related to grasses than to the aforementioned. These tough plants are from the same family as asparagus. So, if you thought this looked like a stalk of asparagus, you weren’t too far off.
I was raised in Des Moines, Iowa where they had a botanical center, complete with a huge, geodesic, glass, greenhouse dome. I think I was about 11 years old when the Botanical Center announced that the Century Plant (Agave americana) was blooming. At the time, I was under the impression that we were Very Lucky to See This Spectacle. I thought it was super-rare and only happened once the plant was exactly 100 years old.
(Agaves live closer to 50 years before they flower, which is still a looooong time for any plant to wait to reproduce. Fortunately for the Agave, they also reproduce asexually by growing baby Agaves (called “pups”) that become independent plants looooong before they flower.)
That 11-year-old girl grew up and moved to Texas. So, when I saw my first blooming Agave here in Austin, I reverted to being that astonished 11-year-old again. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Agaves in Texas are as common as squirrels and seeing the bloom is not a terribly rare event. Just the same, whenever I see one, I still feel a tremendous sense of wonder.
The Agave plant and its stalk, (captured in this image) are spent and have lost all of life’s colors. The absence of color allows a clearer look at the clean lines; the stalk’s architecture is elegant and captivating. To be an Agave plant means to flower; die; and dry into a rigid, desiccated husk. But that husk’s last act appears to be reaching for the stars—literally. This, I think, is a life well-lived.
Original photograph taken in Brentwood Neighborhood, Austin TX; modified with graphic design software.