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Strange plant’s blossom a surprise to locals

Fast-growing century plant has short life span, Mexican origins

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POSTED: May 28, 2012 1:00 p.m.
Randy C. Murray/

Zach Mudd and Albert Tart pose next to blossoming century plant in their yard.

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A huge, bluish-green, cactus-like plant that looks like it could be a prop from a science fiction movie is getting a lot of attention in one Hinesville neighborhood.

And as if its eerie visage was not enough, the blossoming of a century plant along Marlborough Court marks the end of its life, something the ornamental plants do at the end of their life cycle, usually when they’re 25 or older.

A 15- to 40-foot, asparagus-like stalk emerges from the center of the plant then short limbs with yellow flower pods grow near the top of this monolith.

“I’ve lived in this house almost a year,” said Zach Mudd, who, along with roommate Albert Tart, rent a home in the neighborhood where a century plant is now morphing into something looking like an asparagus tree. “It started growing like this a couple months ago. I could see a difference in it every few days. All I knew about this plant was that it was some kind of aloe plant.”

According to the master gardeners of the University of Arizona, the century plant originates from Mexico, and though some have misidentified it as the American aloe plant, it’s actually the agave Americana.

“My son (Capt. T.J. Spolizino) bought the house in 2005,” said Donna Spolizino, manager of Ranger Joe’s. “This was his first duty station when he came in the Army.”

Spolizino, who is originally from New Jersey, said she and her husband helped her son find a house while he was finishing his officer courses. The realtor showed them many homes, but when she saw the house with two century plants in the yard, she was immediately reminded of her grandfather.

“My grandfather was originally from the South,” she said. “He’d make trips back to Florida each year, and when he came home, he’d bring back aloe vera plants with him. When I saw this house with those plants in the yard that looked like aloe vera plants, I was reminded of him. He’d just recently passed away.”

She said her son liked the house too and bought it, but after being reassigned to Fort Hood three years ago, he put house up for rent. Having moved to the area herself, she and her husband have been managing the house for their son.

“The first time I noticed it was growing was in early March,” she said. “In fact, I think it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend. We had gone back to New Jersey to see my mother, who was sick at the time. When we came home, we saw the stalk growing from plant.”

According to the Arizona master gardeners, as Spolizino’s century plant reaches its full height and sunflower-like blossoms appear on its branches, all of the plant’s sap and resources are going to its tree stalk, branches and flowers.

Within a few weeks after blossoming, the century plant will die. However, underground shoots will begin to grow from the remains of the old plant, starting a new life cycle.

Mudd and Tart said they now notice century plants in other yards but haven’t seen any other plants blossoming. When this one dies, Mudd said they’ll probably have to cut it down to keep it from falling on power lines or the house.

 

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