Rare plant available for viewing at SJU

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June 26, 2013

What's as rare as a snowstorm that calls off school in the middle of April?

A flowering Queen Victoria or Royal Agave, that's what.

The plant flowers once in a roughly 50-year cycle, and then dies. That might end this story, except ... the plant is now flowering at the Melancon Greenhouse, located adjacent to the Peter Engel Science Center, Saint John's University.

"It's spectacular to get one in your greenhouse that does this," said Bonnie Woodard, manager of the greenhouse.

Now, the public can see the plant. Viewings have been set from 8:30-10 a.m. Saturday, June 29, and from 8:30-10 a.m. Monday, July 1. Persons can also contact Cody Groen to set up a visit outside of the times listed above.

The plant at SJU, which is estimated to be 30-40 years old, is unlike any plant you've probably seen.

A flower stalk shoots up out of the leaves of the plant and rises roughly 10 feet into the air.

"It flowers from the bottom and works its way up (the stalk)," said Groen, an SJU senior who volunteers at the greenhouse. "There's only a small section that, at any one point, is actually flowering. The stuff below it is dead, and won't be able to reproduce; the stuff above is still yet to flower."

"Of the section now flowering, the top three or so inches, opened Tuesday or Monday," Groen said on Wednesday, June 26. "The bottom half of the flowering section has been open, and by tonight will be dead."

Woodard and Groen estimate that the agave will continue to flower through Monday, July 1.

The plant is native to the Mexican desert, and is used as an ornamental plant in parts of the southern U.S. Woodard said she has seen agaves at Munsinger Gardens in St. Cloud, Minn., but those plants are likely taken in and out each season.

To get to Melancon Greenhouse, go in the main entrance of Peter Engel Science Center, SJU. Go to the stairwell in the southeastern corner of the building, and walk down to the basement. Follow the signs to the greenhouse.