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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - July 11, 2007

From: Gainesville, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Propagation of Agave americana by seed
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

Dear Mr Smarty Pants, My Century Plant is fulfilling its one wish and blooming flowers from its massive stalk. Although I am very sad to see it go, it is certainly a sight to behold. This plant, among other Century Plants, has given me many "pups" and roots to grow my massive Century Garden. However, I have a question, are the flowers that bloom and fall from the stem actually seeds? If they are, then what is the best way to make them seed and grow roots? I would be very excited if these flowers are actually seeds (there are at lest a thousand) I would think). I can continue my Century Plant's legacy by nurturing its offspring :-). Please let em know. I searched everywhere online and I have found several sites that mention the flowering shoot, but none that specify if the flowers are actually seeds. Thank you.

ANSWER:

The Century Plant Agave americana (American century plant) certainly rewards our patience with a spectacular flower show. Although it doesn't take a century for the flowers to appear, it sometimes seems like it. The flowering stalk, resembling a giant asparagus plant, can grow at the rate of several inches a day and produces a panicle-type inflorescence containing several thousand flowers.

Lets review the general structure of flowers: the vegetative (non-reproductive) parts are the sepals and the petals, and the reproductive parts are the stamens and the pistil (carpel). The pistil consists the stigma, style, and ovary which develops into the fruit after fertilization, and this is the part you are interested in.

In Agave americana, the fruit is a capsule containing 8-10 seeds which turns brown at maturity and splits along its sides thereby releasing the seeds. The fruits may remain on the plant until maturity before being released by the parent plant. The "flowers" you see falling from the plant may be just petals; examine their structure closely.

Agaves may be pollinated by hummingbirds, moths, or bats depending on the species. The humming birds tend to work in the daylight hours, while the bats and moths work at night. It could be that the proper pollinator for your century plant may not live in your area, in which case, you are unlikely to get seeds.

In the event that you are able to obtain seeds, the Local Harvest and Plants for a Future web sites offer hints for propagation.

 

From the Image Gallery


American century plant
Agave americana

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