University Of Michigan Plant Is Definitely A Late Bloomer

A botanist at the University of Michigan describes a plant that is blooming at the arboretum there for the first time in 80 years.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's go from still life to real life. A plant that may be the ultimate late bloomer. An 80-year-old plant at the University of Michigan is blossoming for the first time.

MIKE PALMER: This plant is an American agave that was brought back from an expedition in 1934 from Mexico.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

That's Mike Palmer, of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

PALMER: It kind of looks like an octopus with variegated foliages and they've asked me for years, when is it going to bloom? And I would always say, I don't know.

MONTAGNE: In April, a visitor from the Michigan Cactus and Succulent Society noticed a giant asparagus-like stalk jutting out from the center of the plant, and it was growing really fast.

PALMER: Six and a half inches a day at that point.

INSKEEP: Six and a half inches per day. Workers had to remove a section of the ceiling to make room for it. And then on Tuesday, after living through 13 presidents, man's landing on the moon for the first time, and the birth of the Internet, the plant's first flower opened up.

PALMER: The flower at the tip where the petals are has split open, and it looks to me like a lily actually.

MONTAGNE: And there are a thousand more buds waiting to pop. While this American agave took nearly a century to do its thing, normally it takes just 15 to 30 years.

INSKEEP: The blooming is bittersweet though because agave plants bloom only once, then they die.

PALMER: I actually noticed today that it's starting to show some signs of changes. The leaves at the base - you can see some wrinkles, sort of like what we get as we age.

MONTAGNE: But there is a silver lining. There are tiny little offshoots that Palmer and his team will plant, so future generations can wait, and wait, and wait for those to bloom. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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