Longtime love: The Century Plant.

Austin has had an exceptional* rainy season. Besides the full-bodied trees and the flashes of color blanketing the roadside (Thank you Lady Bird), many Century Plants have been in full bloom. Their stalks are proud with patches of vibrant yellow flowers. Gadora’s Grandmother’s house boasted a gargantuan Century Plant. And it utterly mesmerized me.

Agave Americana

It was so out-of-place at her house, I remember thinking—I don’t recall there being another anywhere around. Hers was a Southern yard. Several stately Oak trees canopied the drive. A hearty row of bushes between her house and Uncle P’s provided plenty of fort-like excursions for we imaginative country kids. There was the spindly tree that bloomed the greenest figs. That is still my favorite color. And there was that Century Plant,** snugged so tight to the house I thought it might uproot it.

Adrienne C. Jones "Agave"

There was something magical about the way it unfolded, and those little needle marks left on the leaf closest. I’d run my hands up and down its soft, dense leaf-like appendages and play chicken with its quills. It stood taller than me. A Century Plant. It grows a hundred years. That’s like… forever. I thought.

Turns out, they don’t live to be a hundred as I’d originally been taught (they actually bloom at 10-15 years). However they do die after they bloom, but not before producing “pups” to take the mother plants’ place. Historically there have been many uses for the Agave’s leaves and innards: soap, rope, tequila and sugar…

Jake James - Agave bloom.

Gadora has just completed an agave watercolor (stay tuned for the reveal), and thought  I’d do a little post on the ways Agave inspires others. Set in Palm Desert’s Baja-themed walking park, Gordon Huether’s “Agave” blurs the line between the natural and the fabricated. Huether’s been quite busy since this installation. His body of work is utterly impressive.

Agave by Gordon Huether, 2003

Another take on steel agaves, Desert Steel makes hand crafted steel sculptures.

Agave by Desert Steel

For a more organic yard-art experience than your typical flock of flamingos, Iron Vein creates “modular” galvanized sculptures that allow you to create a plant, including the center cone, with as many leaves as you desire. They are so lifelike, even the birds and the bees will have a hard time knowing the difference.

Modular agave by Iron Vein

Form follows function in Paul and Sage Joske’s agave-stem surf board. Two years in the making, it is truly magnificent. Click on the picture to see how it came together.

Paul Joske's agave surf board

Century Plants have quite loyal admirers, I suppose. And should seeing them bloom not be enough in this lifetime, Perfect Memorials allows you to spend eternity inside of a hand-crafted black chlorite agave leaf with marble base. Plan ahead, the sculpted urn—designed for a loved one with a healthy weight of 220 pounds or less before cremation—can take up to 12 weeks to deliver.

Agave Sculpture Cremation Urn

*I’m totally making that up. It has been raining a lot, and THAT has been exceptionally nice. Staves off the pending blanket of heat that caused me to question Texas life last year.

**Sadly, this isn’t my Grandmothers. Cousin Chad took a tractor to it. It’d snagged him one too many times. I’ll tell myself it had just bloomed, and therefore was on its way out anyway.

• • •

Agave Variegata, 2007: A plywood installation at Lux Art Institute, Encinitas, CA. By Phoebe Bradley.

Eat the Weeds: Did you know bats, Hummingbirds and moths pollinate Agave? And, “The agave is also nature’s hardware store. Several produce fiber, razor strops, pens, nails, needles even didgeridoos. The raw leaves can be beaten for a foamy material similar to soap.”

2 thoughts on “Longtime love: The Century Plant.

    1. lots o’ century plants down here in corpus – in fact, we had to dig one out of our yard recently – we just couldn’t control the weeds that grew so tall between the saw-blade leaves – but plenty in town to enjoy – i am always reminded of dr. seuss drawings when i see one in tall bloom….

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