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WMU plant breaking barriers, reaching new heights

Agave Americana
Posted at 5:21 PM, Mar 03, 2023

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A plant at Western Michigan University’s Finch Greenhouse is not a beanstalk, but it sure is growing like one!

The Agave Americana, also known as the century plant, already is 15-feet tall, and it's not done growing.

Greenhouse caretakers refer to the remarkable plant as "Alice." She's been with the university since the 1970s and now, is outgrowing everything around her.

Agave Americana
Agave Americana at WMU stands at 15 feet, but it's not done yet.

“It's really rare for an agave to flower in this latitude,” Chris Jackson, the university's greenhouse manager, explained to FOX 17 Friday.

This century plant has grown three inches each day since January.

Jackson says it wasn't long before he realized he needed to modify Alice's home and build a protective tube to keep her warm.

He cut a piece of glass from the greenhouse's ceiling to allow Alice to keep moving up. The tube is there to protect Alice from being exposed to the cold weather.

“Without the protective tube, that exposed part outside, it would probably die,” Jackson said.

He says Alice isn't done growing yet. Eventually, her flower spike will start sprouting flower branches, which could stem three to four inches each. When that happens, Jackson will need to remove the tube.

WMU plant breaking barriers, reaching new heights

“It's a bittersweet thing because agaves flower once in their life and then the plant will die,” Jackson explained. “It has stored all this energy for 50-some years, and now it's taking all the energy from those leaves and putting it into this one flower spike, and it will exhaust all of its energy.”

A month after the flower is done, the plant will die. Jackson, along with the many other greenhouse caretakers, plan to look after Alice until the very end.

If you'd like to visit the century plant while she's still here, Finch Greenhouse is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.