Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Once in A Hundred Years

When I first saw the thing, I was sure it was an aid to navigation, worn out and left to rot. Everywhere one looks in the islands, one can find things lying where they fell at the time of their demise, sometimes twenty or thirty years passed. One case in point would be the airplane downed by gunfire in 1979, now a “natural” reef right in the middle of the channel at Norman’s Cay. At every turn, one finds broken ribs and spines of ships, abandoned, windowless cars, dismembered planes, roofless houses no longer habitable.

The strange pole with a pattern of vanes at odd angles towered over the jungle growth on Compass Cay. I hadn’t remembered ever seeing it before, and when asked by guests as we motored past, I opined it to be man-made and forgotten. It wasn’t until the middle of March that Deno told me what it was…not a man-made thing at all, but a living, growing and flowering plant.

Because they flower so infrequently, people named it the Century Plant. If fact, these plants flower about every 28 years and the plants themselves live less than 50 years. They are succulents, related to the yucca. They have several names: Avage Americana, American Aloe, or Century Plant. Potted in tubs for decorative use in gardens, they grow wild in hot, dry regions of Mexico, the Caribbean and South Western United States. How long it takes them to flower depends on the health and strength of the plant, the condition of the soil and the climate where it lives.

Humming birds and the larvae of moths and butterflies love these plants, but indigenous peoples find many uses for this plant as well. It is used to make certain medicines, sisal hemp for weaving, and for food in various forms. You may be interested to learn that Tequila is distilled from the sap of the flowers. Didgeridoos are made from the dried out flower stalks.

Photo Google Image
Have you ever spotted one of these? 
 Have you ever mis-identified something growing for something man-made?
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