Jul 15 2010

Through The Roof!

Published by at 7:30 am under Plants,Schenley Park


It’s not every day you can see an indoor plant bust through the roof and keep on going.

Here in Pittsburgh, the Century plant (Agave americana) at Phipps Conservatory has done just that.

Century plants grow as a rosette of leaves without flowering for 10 to 60 years (depends on climate).  When the plant is ready to bloom it shoots up a stalk as much as 26 feet tall, then produces flowers and dies.  The stalk on the plant at Phipps is so tall they had to remove part of the glass roof to let it keep growing.

In this photograph it wasn’t flowering yet, but I hear it’s doing so now.  That means you don’t have much time left to see it.  Just like the American Columbo, it will die after it blooms.

To see the entire plant you’ll have to visit two places at Phipps.  The bottom of the plant is in the Desert Room, the top is visible from the Japanese Garden.

Though this particular plant is less spectacular from a distance, you can see it from the street at Schenley Park Visitors Center.  Here’s what it would probably look like if it grew outdoors.

Visit Phipps Conservatory to see it.

(photo by Bonnie Jeanne Tibbetts)

p.s. Do you see the bird? Look at the lower branches on the left side of the Century plant.  Does that bird have a crest?  Is it a cardinal?

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Through The Roof!”

  1. Mary Ann Pikeon 15 Jul 2010 at 10:36 am

    The flower stalk (especially looking from the base of the plant), looks like a huge stalk of asparagus. And the leaves of this plant are immense…it’s a very impressive plant. It’s too bad that it sustained wind damage a few weeks ago, after surviving all of the other bad weather we’ve had this year. But at least it is blooming some. It’s a very unique opportunity to see the flowers of a plant that only blooms once after decades of growth.

  2. Kate St. Johnon 15 Jul 2010 at 10:41 am

    Mary Ann, was this picture taken before the wind damage? (I didn’t get a photo date from Bonnie Jeanne.)

  3. Mary Ann Pikeon 15 Jul 2010 at 2:41 pm

    That picture could have been taken after the wind damage. I have a picture that my husband took last week, which is definitely after the wind damage, and I don’t think it looked much different than this picture. You can’t really tell that it was damaged by looking from the street…I guess they wired and duct-taped the stalk back together, and it does appear to be blooming (they weren’t sure it would survive, though, when it happened). I’m going to try to get down there tomorrow after work and photograph it since they are open late on Fridays.

  4. Bonnie Jeanneon 15 Jul 2010 at 6:38 pm

    This photo was taken June 4th, with my iPhone. We had been going over to Phipps on Fridays for Agave Nights, but we weren’t aware there had been wind damage in recent weeks. We are going over tomorrow night, too, to catch a glimpse of the flowers.

    And I can see the bird now, but when I took the picture, I had no idea there was a bird up there. I zoomed in on the photo at home and I don’t think it is a cardinal, but my bird identification skills are not very good.

  5. Danielon 15 Jul 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Such a beautiful specimen.

    I actually have an agave in a pot – my grandmother gave it to me over 10 years ago, and it is an asexual clone of a plant her sister absconded with from Mexico 40 years ago. It looks identical to the big one at Phipps (but a little smaller :)

    Random Phipps sidenote:
    My wife and I visited a few weeks ago – a couple of volunteers had various parrots that visitors could allow to perch on their finger.

    A small one stepped on my finger and I proceeded to let it walk across my fingers like a ladder (quite slowly and gently). Suddenly, either through annoyance or excitement, it grabbed the web of my hand between my thumb in index finger, puncturing both sides.

    It hurt like heck, but I was mainly upset at the thought of causing the little guy stress. I’d like to think he was just excited – but he was probably annoyed at being asked to continue stepping… It seemed to be having fun until it grabbed me.

    It’s all fun and games until… :)

  6. Kate St. Johnon 15 Jul 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Ow! Ow! Ow! I would have found it impossible not to scream. .. and that would have upset more than just the bird. Ow!

  7. Mary DeVon 17 Jul 2010 at 1:29 pm

    It’s on the same end of the building as the outdoor fish ponds, easily visible from the street. I noticed it the other day while driving by (yeah, GOTTA learn to keep my eyes on the road!)

  8. Mary Ann Pikeon 19 Jul 2010 at 9:04 am

    I guess I couldn’t see the wires when my husband took the picture from the street, or else I just didn’t notice them, but the stalk currently is attached to a large “splint” with duct tape, and there are several support wires stabilizing it. Sadly, I think it’s about finished blooming. The flowers that bloomed on the lower branches are turning brown now, and it doesn’t really look like the upper blooms are going to open. Perhaps if it hadn’t been damaged we would have had a better show. Also if you go in and look at the base of the plant, it looks like some of the leaves are starting to shrivel. It was interesting to watch it go through its flowering phase over the last few months. I took some pictures Friday from the Japanese Garden (as close as you can get to it).

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