Jun 26 2009

Giant asparagus stalks island

Blooming yucca plant at the corner of Station 22 1/2 and Ben Sawyer Blvd.

Blooming yucca plant at the corner of Station 22 1/2 and Ben Sawyer Blvd.

A giant monster looms over the intersection of Middle Street and Station 22 ½ on Sullivan’s Island, and its great arms reach out over the roof of a small pink and teal island home. For a while, most island residents thought it looked like a giant asparagus until it began to sprout limbs, then short branches full of dozens and dozens of tubular yellow and orange flowers.
According to the owner of the property, Jerry Kaynard, the plant is a yucca plant, or century plant, also known as an Agave Americana. Although the name is misleading, it is a rare occurrence to see this plant bloom; especially in climates north of Mexico. In fact, the blooming of one century plant in 1933 at the Bronx Zoo in New York City was heavily advertised, encouraging people to come out and see this “once in a century” event. Unfortunately, the botanist in charge of the plant predicted the stalk would blossom four weeks before it actually occurred, prompting a cartoon in the New Yorker which depicted a committee watching the first blooming of the plant in the park, checking their watches and declaring, “It’s been a hundred years and ten minutes, exactly.” The closer to the south the plant grows, however, the more often it will send up a stalk. In South Carolina, the plants tend to bloom every 25 – 28 years.
In its natural climate, the century plant blooms every 15 years, after which the plant dies; but if the stalk is cut before blooming, the plant will survive for a second sprouting. This is important to the producers of Mexican mescal, as the sap produced at the base of a cut stalk is used to make pulque, the national Mexican drink, which is then fermented and distilled to make mescal. The flower stalk, if allowed to grow (and the stalks can reach anywhere from 15 – 40 feet high), can be used to make natural razor strops, rope fiber and insulating material.

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