We have a relatively rare botanical event going on in the University of Connecticut greenhouses right now: an Agave, or Century Plant, is in bloom. This plant is probably Agave filifera ssp. schidigera, a native of Mexico, but I'm not entirely certain of the identification. The plant has been in the greenhouse at least since the staff started keeping careful records in 1985, and its origins are uncertain. It's got an impressive inflorescence, at any rate, about 12 feet high, with hundreds of greenish flowers opening sequentially from the bottom to the top. The flowers literally drip nectar, and have an odd vegetable smell, sort of like steamed artichokes.
This is the first time this plant has bloomed in its 23 plus years, but "Century Plant" is clearly an exaggeration. Agave plants are monocarpic, which means that the plants cease growth and die shortly after flowering and setting seed. Many Agave species produce vegetative offsets or runners, though, so only the individual rosette that sends up an inflorescence croaks, while a ring of clones around it survive. Our Agave filifera hasn't produced any offsets yet, so it may be gone for good after putting on its show. I'm attempting to self-pollinate it, but it isn't always possible to set seeds with only one plant.
Century Plant blooms are fairly rare in northern greenhouses: at UConn, we keep about 20 agaves, and have had only this single flowering in the past 10 years. In warmer, drier parts of the country, Century Plants--especially Agave americana--are grown as bedding plants, and flowerings are commonplace in suburban gardens and highway plantings.