The Cambrian

25-foot-tall plant near Cambria climbs to the sky like Jack’s magic beanstalk

The century plant rises above the second-story roof outside Centrally Grown, just off Highway 1 north of Cambria.
The century plant rises above the second-story roof outside Centrally Grown, just off Highway 1 north of Cambria. sprovost@thetribunenews.com

Did anyone see a fellow named Jack drop a magic bean outside of Centrally Grown?

Not really, but people who drive by the business just north of Cambria on Highway 1 can’t be blamed for thinking a beanstalk is growing out front.

The plant in question is so tall it’s risen above the roof of the two-story building that houses the core business of Centrally Grown at Off the Grid, but it’s not a beanstalk, and no beans are involved. It’s actually a century plant — an agave plant that blooms when it reaches somewhere between 20 and 30 years of age. (The “century” appellation is a misnomer, a bit of popular hyperbole.)

Century2
The century plant in bloom at Centrally Grown on Monday. Stephen H. Provost sprovost@thetribunenews.com

“The stalk’s been coming up since October or November,” Erica Calle, manager at Centrally Grown, said Monday, adding that it’s been in bloom “maybe about a month.”

Calle said it isn’t the only century plant she’s seen in the area. “Last year, I stayed at Cambria Shores Inn, and they had one, too,” she said. “The thing is, once the bloom dies, the plant dies, too.”

The base of the succulent is a large crown that looks like an outsized version of an aloe vera plant.

The stalk only starts rising when it’s getting ready to bloom. It typically reaches heights of 10 to 25 feet or more, and the one at Centrally Grown appears to be at the upper end of that range. (One in Leander, Texas, reportedly grew to between 35 and 40 feet tall in 2010.) A resident of Blythe reported one that was “over 40 feet high” and “taller than the power lines” a couple of years earlier.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the plant is known as Agave Americana (American agave) or American aloe. It’s native to Texas and Mexico and grows well in areas with full sunlight — a description that fits the Centrally Grown site. It’s also found in California, Arizona, Louisiana and Florida.

How long has it been at Centrally Grown? Calle didn’t know.

“We occupied the place here in October,” she said of the business’ current operators, “so we don’t know when it was planted. My guess is that the owner who remodeled it planted it after it was The Hamlet” (the business that occupied the space previously).

According to wildflower.org, the plants typically bloom, as this one is doing, in June or July.

Cambria master gardener Lee Oliphant called the agave “a Mexican native that loves our dry climate.”

“I’ve seen the bloom used as a ‘Christmas Tree,’ hung with Christmas ornaments, in the Southwestern states,” she added.

What happens next?

Calle said the stalk’s color has already started to change from green to brown. According to wildflower.org, however, the blooms tend to last “at least a couple of months.”

Once the stalk dies, the plant itself will die, but shoots below ground allow colonies to survive, even after the plant’s demise. Seeds are also spread by wind and water.

“When the bloom withers and falls over, tiny agave plants form along the stem,” Oliphant said. “Pluck these off, stick them in the ground, and they form roots, making many more agave plants.”

So other agave plants masquerading as beanstalks may well be in the area’s future.

Elephant seal pups grow up at their rookery south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse in San Luis Obispo County in February and early March. By mid-March most of the mothers will have departed after four weeks of nursing and fasting, leaving the lit

  Comments