September 24, 2021
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Agave Americana in Rohnert Park

By: Irene Hilsendager
June 11, 2021

As you take an evening stroll along Golf Course Dr. in Rohnert Park many different types of trees and cactus are showing their true colors now that it is close to summer. Has anyone wondered where these came from and what they are called?

A resident of St. Francis Circle sent a photo and asked  what the cactus behind her house on Golf Course Dr. was as it was growing about a foot a week. 

Being curious, a photographer was contacted, and a trip was taken to the Mt. Shadows Shopping Center to park the car and trek west about a block from the shopping center and what a sight to behold. 

A perennial cactus spread about six feet wide with beautiful green to blue green color leaves, and about six feet in height was not too unusual but out of the base of the sharp leaves arose, what was described as a 30 -foot asparagus, with massive amount of flowering clusters of stems up to the top of the erect stalk.

This is found to have many common names. Agave, American agave, century plant, or maguey. It is native to northern and central Mexico and some parts of southern USA. The century plant is an agave that is native to Mexico but is now found worldwide. The large leaves that are up to six feet long are found to have prickly spines along the edges and a large spike at the top. The stems of these plants are very short and woody, but massive flowering stems are eventually produced. 

Although the agave is called the century plant, it typically lives only 10 to 30 years. This would really fit into the time frame that Golf Course Dr. was graded; probably around 50 some years ago. Some century plants will live longer than the 30 years. John McArthur from the Rohnert Park Public Works said most of the Agaves were planted by the public works crew but didn’t have much more information except that they thrive quite well and are spreading rapidly. 

The very large leaves at the base of the plant are long and narrow and arranged in a rosette. 

The massive flower clusters are borne at the top of a very robust flowering stem. These flower clusters are much branched with branches being further divided towards their tips. Individual flowers are borne in an upright position with stalks called pedicels. The flowers are yellow or greenish-yellow in color with their six ‘petals’ segments being fused together at the base into a short tube. The flowers also have six very prominent stamens consisting of stalks or filaments and yellow anthers. They also have a large ovary topped with a style and three stigmas.

The fruit is a large oblong capsule with a pointed tip or beaked apex and consists of three compartments. These capsules turn from green to brown or blackish in color as they mature and eventually split open to release their seeds

Each of the flowers will develop into a tiny century plant and if allowed to fall to the ground will root and begin growing to produce more century plants. After the plant flowers, it will die. However, century plants produce suckers or shoots from the base, and these will take over to continue the plant’s life.  

Bloom time trigger mechanism is not very well understood but this particular agave generally blooms at abut 10 years of age.

Finding three in nearly a group on Golf Course Dr., there is another one by the city’s corporate yard also. Since the leaves are prickly, it would be wise not to let the younger people get too close to the century cactus.