- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

NORFOLK (AP) — The agave plant at Norfolk Botanical Garden is about to bloom, something it does only once in its lifetime.

At 24 feet tall and 12 feet wide, it’s an event worth noting.

Last year, while only 7 feet tall, it crowded Frank and Polly Tuck’s front yard and threatened to take over the foundation of their house in Virginia Beach.

“It was just overgrowing everything,” Mr. Tuck said. “Reach out and touch somebody, you know?”

It took the groundskeepers at the Botanical Garden all day to move the 20-year-old agave americana, which the Tucks gave to the garden, and it is now at the front door of Rose Garden Hall.

It likes its new address so much that this summer it started growing a flower stalk at the rate of 1 foot a day. The garden staff considered cutting it off, but curiosity won out and the agave flowers should open sometime in the next week.

This kind of agave blooms only once in its lifetime, which is anywhere from 10 to 60 years depending on climate. Then it dies. After about three weeks, the agave will start to dry up, leaving behind a bunch of seeds and some little shoots around the base that are called pups.

One of the more-precocious pups is a few inches tall and has already put up its own miniature flower stalk. Other shoots have been moved to new locations, where they will slowly grow thick, gray-green leaves that curl from a central rosette to the ground.

The fermented sap of some agaves is used to make tequila.

“I think some people are kind of afraid of it,” Mr. Tuck said of the thorned agave. “You don’t want to stand too close to it. You feel like it’s going to reach out and grab you.”

The New York Botanical Garden has an agave americana that grew so tall that glass panes had to be removed from the conservatory ceiling to let it out. They’re not expecting flowers until September on their 50-year-old plant.

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