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A strange, towering plant is growing downtown – and you better look before it dies

Thomas Williams finds out he owns a mysterious century plant

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Something straight from the mind of Dr. Seuss is growing on Rosewood Drive.

It looks like an asparagus the size of a tree, and it has sprouted in the past few weeks from a bushel of gray-green, spiky leaves, themselves taller than a full-grown man and jutting every which way from the corner of the street.

Likely in another couple weeks, puffy yellow Seuss-like flowers will bloom from the tip of the stalk, creating a whimsical little canopy 20 or 30 feet or more above the ground.

It might grow a foot taller each day before it reaches its peak, already surpassing the power lines beside it.

The spectacle of the Rosewood “century plant” is more than a decade in the making.

Thomas Williams planted it, a gift from a friend, years ago – he can’t remember how many.

Several people have stopped by Williams’ house and gift shop, the Eye of the Cat, at the busy corner of Rosewood and Pickens Street, asking to take photos of his plant in recent weeks.

But he hadn’t noticed what was happening to it.

“And I was saying, ‘What’s so fascinating about that?’” the 84-year-old wondered.

The century plant on the corner is the oldest of more than a dozen he has planted around his yard. Williams knew nothing about the plants other than that he liked them and they didn’t require any tending on his part.

On Wednesday, when he at last craned his neck and looked up at the tremendous stalk shooting from its leafy base, Williams’ eyes grew wide in wonderment.

“Honest for goodness! I hadn’t paid attention to that. I sure enough hadn’t,” he exclaimed. “I think it’s gorgeous. Looks like it’s fixin’ to bloom.”

Formally known as Agave americana, so-called “century plants” typically take anywhere from 15 to 20 years in the Columbia climate to shoot up and bloom, said Jackie Jordan, a Clemson University horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for Richland, Kershaw and Fairfield counties.

A type of succulent plant, related to aloe, the century plant is native to Mexico and the southwest United States but can thrive in the Columbia climate.

It’s not unusual to see the plants grow here, Jordan said, but it is more unusual to see them bloom – because that happens only once in their lifetimes, once they reach maturity. That could take as few as 10 years in warmer climates or as many as 60 years in cooler climates.

There’s no way to predict when they’ll bloom, Jordan said. That’s why the emergence of the Rosewood stalk is such an attention-grabbing surprise.

Once the flowers bloom, they’ll last for a little while, and then the plant will die for good.

But baby plants growing from its base will live on and overtake the mother plant. And there are plenty more taking their sweet time growing all over Williams’ yard.

“I’m pretty sure some more people are going to want some of them,” Williams said, smiling in awe at the towering shoot.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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