A Rare Bloom After a Decade of Waiting

An agave plant at the Duke biology greenhouse blooms after 10 quiet years; its next step: death.

An agave plant close up of the light green buds next to a view of the towering stalk from ground level - the greenhouse is in the background

"It's amazing because I have never seen such a plant, this is the first time in my life, and I hope to see it again," he said.

Todd Smith, a lab research analyst with the biology department, called the bloom “a botanical event.”

“It’s something you’re going to wait 10 or 15 years for and then all of a sudden it happens,” he said. “And you may never see it again.”

Agave ovatitolia or “Whale’s Tongue” is one of about 800 species of the plant from around the world that the greenhouse maintains.

The plant is native to Mexico and northeastern South America, generally in hot and dry climates. Agave is also used in clothing and tequila; also, bats, bees and hummingbirds drink its nectar.

Before it dies, Gonźalez hopes the plant can teach him something new.

“Up until now we have only seen the masculine parts of the flowers or just masculine flowers,” he said. “The spike grew for a month and then it bloomed from the bottom to the top. The flowering time has lasted about two weeks and counting. We would like to see how long it will take for the plant to dry up. We want to know if it produces seed and if the seeds are viable.”