The ‘Agave Sisalana’ in the Arid House at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston is about to bloom for the first – and last – time.
The plant’s stem bearing the flowers is currently about 18 feet tall and panes of glass have had to be removed from the roof of the glasshouse to accommodate its rapid growth.
This particular plant, which has never flowered before in the 15 years it has been growing at the gardens, will flower only once and then die. But smaller plants will grow eventually from its roots.
The Mexican plant has two main economic uses – which explain how it acquired its common name – ‘the needle and thread plant’.
It has sharp spines at the tip of the leaves which can be used as needles. The thread is made from leaf fibres. The older outer leaves are cut from the base of the plant, crushed to remove the flesh and washed to leave hard fibre which is dried and twisted.