A giant desert plant at Missouri's Truman State University is preparing to flower for the first time in its 50-year life —which means the plant is about to die, according to university scientists.
The Agave Americana plant – native to the deserts of Mexico and mostly known for its sugars that yield tequila when fermented – is giving notice of its impending demise, they say.
"This particular plant, this species, will only flower once in their lifetime and then they die," said associate biology Professor Lisa Hooper.
The plant, believed to be one of the oldest agave plants around, started growing its flowering stalk a few weeks ago, said university greenhouse manager Jenna Canfield, so quickly that school maintenance workers had to scramble to remove some glass panels from the greenhouse roof and make room for it.
"We were getting worried it would go through the roof before we were ready to take the panel off," Canfield said.
The stalk could attain an impressive height of 25 feet before it branches out and begins to produce flowers in the coming weeks. Agave plants, which for most of their lives resemble a large shrub, can vary in color from light blue-green to blue and white.
Although this particular plant has been at the university in Kirksville, Missouri for more than 50 years, no one is sure how it ended up in the school's greenhouse.
"We don't know who brought it here originally," Hooper said. "All we know anecdotally is we have faculty members who have been here for 35 or 40 years and they remember it as a fairly big plant."
Although the large plant will die once it is finished flowering, it will leave evidence of its existence in the form of new small offspring plants that have sprouted from its base, she explained.
Photo by José María Escolano, Flickr