Legend and common folklore has it that the Agave americana, also known as the "century plant," lives a very long time and blooms once every 100 years, hence its name. While that isn't exactly true, a blooming century plant is indeed a rare sight that can take years to observe.
Jean and Tom Buchan of Ash Branch Church Road in Pembroke moved to the area from Savannah in 1992 and brought a century plant with them. They planted it near their home, but its sharp spines "were dangerous," so they moved the stately succulent to another place in the yard, where it grew — and grew.
"It is over 30 years old now," Tom Buchan said.
At first it was rather small, but the plant thrived. This spring, it began sprouting a tall, slender bloom that towers over the Buchans at about 25 feet tall.
Bulloch County Extension Agent Bill Tyson said he has only seen a blooming century plant two or three times in his life.
"They get 10 to 30 years old before they bloom and start making seeds," he said. "If you've never seen one, it's something to see."
Jean Buchan said she has researched the plant and learned that is it a succulent, a type of cactus, and that the needle points were once used to sew leather.
According to www.wildflower.org, the blue-green, broad-leaved century plants can grow from 6 to 12 feet tall, with yellow blooms growing from 12 to 25 feet.
Another website, www.homeguides.sfgate.com, warns that the sharp needles exude a poisonous sap that can cause "severe skin irritation or digestive problems (and) eye damage."
Jean Buchan said she learned "the mother plant will use all its energy blooming and then will die," but baby plants pop up around it.
Perhaps they bloom more often than every 100 years, but the century plants are certainly eye-catching and interesting, proving to be great conversation pieces when the bloom starts stretching skyward, she said.
"You don't see many of these plants," Tyson said. "They will get some size on them."
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.