Agave blooms (century plant)

Agave flower stalksIn March, 2009 two agave plants on our property in southeastern Arizona sent up stalks indicating they were going to bloom. This offered a great opportunity to follow the development of the flowers and seeds and take photographs of the entire process, which took place between mid-March and the end of July. For general information on the agave go here.

As the following photos show, the stalks first came straight up about 30 feet, with triangular, leaf-like patches along the stem. These soon drew away from the stalk revealing a branch forming parallel to the stem. After reaching a couple of feet in length these branches swung downward, forming the familiar chandelier formation on which the flowers appear. The flowers at first are green pods, then open to release pistils and stamens which attract many bees and insects as well as birds.

Agave stalk at 3 weeks

Here the branches are just emerging from the trunk.

Close-up of branches emerging from agave stalk

Branches pull away from agave stalk

Flower buds on agave branches

The flower buds have formed, detail below.

Close-up of agave flower buds

Agave branch with pods about to open

Close-up of open Agave flowers

Agave flowers a week after opening

At this point the first blooms to open are beginning to dry out. The buds open sequentially upward along the stem with the flowers on the bottom branches being already matured and dried out by the time the flowers on the top open. This occurs over a period of about a month.

Agave flowers begin to wither

Agave plants in full bloom, approx. 30 ft tall

Agave plants in full bloom

Ripening agave seed pods

Here the surviving seed pods are ripening. Many of the potential pods have fallen to the ground prior to this point during wind storms. Given the number of bees present at the plant over the weeks of blooming, it seems unlikely that all the flowers were not pollinated but for some reason many of the blooms do not develop into seeds.

Hole made in agave stalk by Gila woodpecker

This photo shows a hole made in the stalk by a woodpecker, one of the many birds who came to feast on the swarms of insects attracted to the flowers. Presently one of the agaves has fallen over, but the other is still standing.

Update: October 2009
The plump green pods shown above have now mostly turned black and shriveled. A few have fallen and these contain numerous flat seeds. The majority of the black pods, however, remain on the plant and the likelihood seems to be that they will open while on the plant, dispersing the seeds in a manner similar to that of yucca plants.

Final update:
A recent storm brought down the remaining agave. The photos below show the seed pods as they had developed to that point.

Agave seed pods

Agave seed pods

Cross section of Agave Stalk

****