American agave at UofM continues to bloom

This July 13, 2014 photo shows the American agave at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in the only bloom of its lifetime.
This July 13, 2014 photo shows the American agave at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in the only bloom of its lifetime.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — The American agave at the University of Michigan continues its once-in-a-lifetime bloom.

The plant at Matthai Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is 80 years old. It stands at 28 feet tall, according to Matthaei Horticulture Manager of Collections Mike Palmer.

The agave is currently in the only bloom of its lifetime, which Matthaei says lasts several weeks. After the bloom, the plant will die.

The agave doesn’t bloom like most of the flowers in your garden. Rather, pods open and yellow reproductive anthers that contain pollen extend.

This July 14, 2014 photo shows a hummingbird pollinating the American agave at the University of Michigan's Matthai Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Palmer said the agave is being cross-pollinated by moths and bats that are attracted to the scent of its nectar, rather than the way it looks, as well as hummingbirds.

Before the agave dies, it will produce genetic clones that botanists can use to grow more agave plants.

Palmer explained those tiny replicas form at the base of the plant and the area of the flower buds. Those clones — referred to on Matthaei’s website as “pups” — then shake off the plant onto the ground, where they can take root.

This July 13, 2014 photo shows the American agave at the University of Michigan's Matthai Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in the only bloom of its lifetime. After the agave dies, Palmer said, it will be cut down — though in nature it would typically fall on its own.

The 28-foot stalk can be used to construct a didgeridoo — a wind instrument invented by the indigenous people of Australia. A man has asked Matthaei for the stalk to turn it into a didgeridoo, Palmer said, but it will first be offered to University of Michigan art classes, which have previously taken agave stalks.

American agaves can be used to make mezcal, a generic Tequila, Palmer said — but Matthaei does not use the plant for that purpose. It would rather the sugar and energy  needed to make the liquor be used to allow the plant’s stalk to grow.

Matthaei is documenting the bloom on its Facebook page.

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