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Garfield Park Conservatory agave flower is 15 feet tall and growing

The Agave guiengola began blooming in early December.

From left to right Gus Coliadis, Victor Amo and Ray Jorgensen hold and try to measure the stalk of Guien, an agave in a death bloomat the Garfield Park Conservatory in Garfield Park, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022.
Gus Coliadis (from left), Victor Amo and Ray Jorgensen on Wednesday measure the stalk of Guien, an agave in a death bloom at the Garfield Park Conservatory.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Amid the Old Man and Totem Pole cacti and the Desert Prickly Pears, the tip of something extremely tall and slender quivers.

No, it isn’t moving on its own – but that wouldn’t be entirely surprising, given that it has grown about 9 inches during the last 24 hours.

The Agave guiengola – part of the asparagus family — is quivering because its keepers are trying, with considerable difficulty, to stretch a tape measure along its length.

Finally, the folks in the Desert House at the Garfield Park Conservatory declare it to be 15 feet, 3 inches tall. But it’s anyone’s guess how much taller the flower “spike” will grow.

“I’m not sure what to say anymore,” said Ray Jorgensen, the floriculturist who oversees the care of the 600 or so succulents in the Desert House. “When we first did the research on it, [the literature] said 4 to 6 feet tall. … It’s just going crazy.”

Jorgensen wonders if the astonishing growth has to do with the conditions inside the conservatory as opposed to the flinty landscape of its native Oaxaca in Mexico.

“They’re toughing it out and not getting pampered like they are here,” he said.

But the conservatory’s agave won’t go crazy forever. The agave’s spike, now smothered with hundreds of tiny green buds, will bloom in the next few weeks and then very slowly die during the following months.

The plant only blooms once in its lifetime — in this case, about 35 years.

The spike has been growing for a little over a month and attracting attention even in a setting sprouting plants of breathtaking size, shape and texture — from the Desert Prickly Pear with its 4-inch-long spines to the massive Bottle Tree with branches that coil down like snakes.

It’s unlikely that the agave plant will reach the height of the conservatory’s Agave americana, which topped out at about 38 feet in 2019 and required staff to remove a glass panel in the roof.

But it’s clear Jorgensen will miss it when the blooming plant finally dies.

“Particularly when [the bloom] first starts to open — it’s like sensual; it’s so beautiful,” he said.