Sunday, July 14, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Agave americana, or the century plant


Agave americana in inflorescence
The Agave americana, sometimes called the century plant, maguey, or the American aloe, goes out with a bang.  After living an uneventful life looking like a relatively normal, unassuming desert plant for ten to twenty years, it dramatically signals the end of its life cycle by storing energy and resources to produce, very quickly, a towering stalk with flowering branches.  (Hence the somewhat misleading name "century plant.")  The stalk that the plant suddenly throws up is like a radio tower of sorts.  The plant tries to shoot up the stalk as high as possible, for the widest possible dispersal of its seeds, which are often spread by the wind.  After it flowers and disseminates its seeds, the plant dies.

First drafts of our own future inflorescence?
The agave's life cycle pretty much tracks the plot line of any escape-from-dying-Earth sci-fi.  Earth is used up and done, so humans must pool our remaining resources to flee.  We make one last push, with our remaining resources, to build a massive vehicle to escape, spreading ourselves with the solar wind.  The agave has already shown us how it's done.  When it reaches the end, it makes the big push, saying, more or less: "Let's get off this rock!" 

Artist's rendering of potential solar-sail dissemination

1 comment:

rahul said...

Crazy.