Des Allemands woman finds unexpected bloom of ‘century’ cactus

Fourteen years after she first planted it in the front yard of her Des Allemands home, Shannon Brooks walked outside of her home on Good Friday and saw her Agave americana – or “century plant” – in a way she never expected to see it.

It was beginning to bloom.

The evergreen perennial cactus plant draws its nickname from the fact that it blooms just once in its lifespan, and it can take an exceedingly long time to bloom. The plant typically lives between 10 and 30 years and the bloom marks the end of its life, so while it doesn’t quite take 100 years, a potential three-decade wait inspired its century moniker.

“I was spending the day with family, and I came outside later to start cleaning up when I saw this chute coming up the middle of it,” Brooks said. “I thought, ‘hey, wait a minute, that’s not your normal chute’ and realized it was blooming. So now, it’s probably 30 feet up, with all these little limbs and pods coming off of it.”

Brooks is quick to note she isn’t a gardener – “I only plant stuff I can’t kill … I don’t have a green thumb by any stretch,” – and learned about the unique qualities of the plant through the internet.

“I looked for pictures online and then started researching,” she said. “Once I did that, I saw the bloom like the one this plant has. But I never really thought I would see it with mine. It was amazing to me. I thought it could take another 30 or 40 years.”

The plant forms large rosettes of green leaves that grow up to six feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. Near the end of the century plant’s life, the rosettes shoot a stout flowering stalk branched near the top and up to 30 feet tall.

While the americana in its name refers to where the species was first discovered, Brooks actually made her own discovery of it while on a trip to Israel with a friend.

“When we got off the plane there, they were everywhere. They’re native to that climate,” Brooks said. “Two weeks after we came home, (Brooks’ friend) showed up at my door and had one for me. It was only about two feet high at the time. I planted it and it’s been there ever since.”

It has been something of a milestone marker for Brooks at her Mitchell Lane home, as while she is a lifelong Des Allemands resident and native, the plant has been at this residence almost as long as she has, as she planted it not long after moving in.

That might seem somewhat bittersweet, then, that her time with the plant displayed in her yard is coming to an end soon. But actually, she said, it’s not all that heartbreaking – it is, after all, a cactus.

“I actually thought at times about pulling it up, because it’s so high-maintenance,” Brooks said. “It has these big spikes on it, and they’re razor sharp, big pointy needle spikes. So, when the kids are playing, or we’re cutting the grass, we’d always get nicked. So, in a way I’m not sorry to see it go. I don’t think I’ll plant another, but it’s been a blessing to kind of experience the whole journey with it and see it through.”

That process isn’t over. It will likely take some time still to reach full bloom, Brooks said. Already, she said the bloom has eclipsed any of the ones she saw in Israel.

“I didn’t see any that were this size. Some of them had maybe a 15–20-foot bloom coming up,” she said. “For this one, it should take a bit longer to fully bloom … from the pictures I see, and the bushes that form on top of it, it looks like a whole other tree up there. It’s such a strange, unusual plant.”

 

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