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80-year-old agave plant blooming for 1st, only time in life

An American agave plant housed at the University of Michigan since 1934 started to bloom Tuesday afternoon.

American agave plant has been at the University of Michigan since 1934

A flowering process 80 years in the making is finally underway.

An American agave plant housed at the University of Michigan since 1934 started to bloom Tuesday afternoon.

The blooms so far are "low-key" with yellow anthers sticking out, Joe Mooney, a spokesman for Matthaei Botanical Gardens, said Wednesday. The anther is the part of the stamen where pollen is produced.

The agave began sprouting up at a pace of 15 centimetres (six inches) a day in the spring and now stands at more than eight metres (27 feet) — so tall that it juts out through an open space in the Ann Arbor conservatory's glass roof.

The variegated American agave (Agave americana) was collected in Mexico by famed ethno-botanist Alfred Whiting, who then was a University of Michigan graduate student. Known as the century plant because it blooms infrequently, it is native to Mexico and the American Southwest and typically lives 10 to 25 years in the wild before blooming a single time then dying.

Now that the Michigan agave has begun to bloom, Matthaei horticulture manager Mike Palmer said he plans to reach out to his colleagues out West.

"I'm going to call the Desert Botanical Garden (in Phoenix) and ask for a firsthand description of what happens during the flower opening," Palmer said.

Mooney said it was difficult to predict how the flower will look in full bloom because the plant is so old and has lived its life in a conservatory rather than in a hot desert.

Once the agave completes the flowering process, it will take many months before it dies.

In the plant's final throes, it is expected to produce "pups," or genetic clones that look the same as the parent plant, from which Matthaei officials can propagate the species.

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