Rare plant set to bloom at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo
BRIDGEPORT — Though it’s the dead of winter, staff at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo are eagerly awaiting the blooming of a plant that only blossoms every decades.
In a news release, the zoo reported that flower stalks have appeared in the center of two Agave plants growing in the zoo’s Victorian Greenhouse. The plants are colloquially known as “Century plant,” because they bloom so rarely (though the process takes about 30 years, not 100).
The stalks resemble giant asparagus spears. One of the plants has grown to more than nine feet; the other is more than seven feet.
According the zoo’s release, the roughly 80-year-old Agave was donated to the zoo in 1956 “by a New Haven pharmacy that was razed for construction of the Connecticut Turnpike. Sixty-four years later, this plant has finally produced a thick flower spike with several side shoots. In its native habitat in the hot, dry American southwest, these spikes can grow to heights up to thirty feet, unfettered by ceilings and roofs.”
Zoo horticulture manager Jonathan Dancho said in the release that he will have to tip the base of the taller flower stalk soon to allow it to grow along the rafters of the greenhouse, where it will produce hundreds of golden blooms.
Dancho estimated that the first of the plants will bloom in February or March, followed by the second, larger plant blooming in March or April. The greenhouse has several more Agaves that are years away from blooming. The last Agave bloomed in the zoo greenhouse in 2003.
“We haven’t seen a Century plant bloom at the Zoo in 17 years, and it’s unclear if or when we’ll see one again,” said Dancho in the release. “There are some oddities of nature that are dazzling simply by taking so long to flower. The Century plant is one of them.”
Most likely an Agave americana, the horticultural staff at the zoo has not been able to discern the precise subspecies in the Greenhouse collection. There are about 22 genera and 720 species of agave plants with spiny leaves.
According to the release, one of the zoo’s missions is to serve as a botanical garden for the community, demonstrating the relationship between plants, animals, and humans. The historical Victorian Greenhouse houses hundreds of plants, along with a Koi pond. Volunteers help to maintain the plants, adding signage that is a helpful benefit to home gardeners, garden clubs, and houseplant enthusiasts.