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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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Thursday - April 06, 2006

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Century plant dying after bloom
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Help!! I want to save my Century Plant from dying. I have already lost one and I don't want to lose this one. Can cutting the stalk before it gets too big save this beautiful plant? Please, please answer soon! Thank you!!

ANSWER:

It sounds as if your century plant has just flowered. If so, I am afraid I have some bad news for you. It is one of a group of plants that dies after it blooms. Plants with this reproductive strategy are known as monocarpic, i.e., they flower and produce fruit only once in their lifetime and then die. All annuals and biennials are monocarpic, but there are also many perennial plants that are moncarpic. Some of these may live for 90 years before flowering and dying. The Century Plant happens to be one of these monocarpic plants. You can see a photographic record of this process of flowering and dying.

Here are some other plants that have the same reproductive strategy:
1. Haleakala Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense)
2. Monument Plant (Frasera speciosa)
3. Many of the bamboo species are also monocarpic.

I can't really tell you whether cutting the flower stalk before it actually blooms would save the plant or not. My feeling is that it wouldn't. I am pretty certain that cutting the stalk after it has flowered and fruited is not going to keep it from dying.

 

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