March 18, 2013
By Donald R. Hodel, University of California, and James E. Henrich, Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
Some plants can grow for 50 years or more and never flower and produce fruits but when they finally do, their floral display can be spectacular as well as terminating the end of the plant’s life. One such plant is the Arboretum’s Furcraea macdougalii, a native of high-elevation dry forests in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Puebla in Mexico, and it is in flower right now so don’t miss it. An agave relative, MacDougal’s century plant forms a slender trunk to 15 feet tall from an abruptly swollen base and is topped with a rosette of fleshy, narrow leaves to 7 feet long and 3 inches wide with curved teeth along the margins. Looking like an agave with a trunk but growing in relative anonymity for many years, it really makes a name for itself when it shoots up a huge, terminal flower stalk that is as large as the plant itself and adds an additional 20 feet to the overall height. Although spectacular, this flowering event signals the end of the life of MacDougal’s century plant because the plant dies after flowering. However, miniature plants form on the flower stalk and these can be used for propagation to make new plants. The Arboretum has three plants, which it obtained in 1966 and only now, after nearly 50 years, are flowering. Surprisingly, all three plants are flowering simultaneously. Catch this unusual display along the road at the base of the hill going up to Tallac Knoll.