Large cactus is not your ordinary ficus

11:27 AM, Jun 17, 2013   |    comments
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Gulf Breeze, Florida (PNJ) -- After the pine tree in their back yard succumbed to the Florida heat 28 years ago, Theo and Winky Buttrum knew the 18-inch diameter hole it left would have to be filled.

Not only did they have rambunctious grandchildren to keep safe, but the chasm left an unsightly gap in the yard's line of foliage.

Winky found an instant landscaping solution after Theo's mother, who was visiting from Texas, left a century plant at the couple's Santa Rosa Park home in Gulf Breeze.

"I just stuck it in that hole," Winky said. "I didn't put any dirt or anything in it."

Today, nearly three decades and many hurricanes later, the 24-foot-tall plant towers over the Buttrum home.

Its spiny stalk and huge serrated leaves can be seen easily from the street and spark the curiosity of neighbors who often stop by to view the plant on their morning walks.

The Agave americana in the Buttrums' yard is a desert plant that can grow as tall as 30 feet with massive gray-green leaves that often reach more than 6 feet in length.

Century plant is a misnomer, because its lifespan generally ranges from 10 to 30 years.

And now, that long life is about to end in beauty.

At the peak of a century plant's bloom, groups of yellow flowers sprout from the ends of horizontal branches at the top of the stalk. The flowering process lasts approximately a week and then, the plant dies shortly thereafter.

The Buttrums' plant was in middle bloom last weekend before they noticed any significant changes at the top of the stalk. New growth has happened overnight for the past week.

"We wondered, when in the world is this thing gonna bloom!" Theo Buttram said. "We'd hear rumors that it lives until it dies. It'll bloom, then it'll die and that's the end of it. And that's true!"

The species is most commonly found in Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States, but its resiliency allows it to survive in other dry, hot places with little to no maintenance.

The plant is similar to the blue agave plant used in the manufacture of tequila and mescal.

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