This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Though it is not true that this plant will not flower under a century, it flowers so rarely that the occurrence is always an event in the community. When in Cincinnati recently, the writer saw one on exhibition at the Highland House, a famous place of popular resort. A very interesting paper, suggested by the flowering of this plant, was read before the Cincinnati Society of Natural History by Joseph F. James, from which we make the following extract:
"The flowers are of a greenish yellow color, growing in large bunches as big as a half-bushe, measure. The perianth is six parted. The filaments at first are curved over, and the anthersl swung nearly in the centre, are bent down and packed in the perianth. As the flower matures, the filaments straighten and elevate the anthers, while as soon as the pollen is shed the stigma, which until then was almost concealed in the perianth tube, rapidly elongates and is soon ready to be fertilized. Thus, this is one of those plants whose flowers cannot be fertilized by their own pollen, for when the stigma of a particular blossom is ripe the pollen of that flower is gone. In this way close interbreeding is prevented, and cross fertilization becomes necessaiy for the perfection of seed.
" The economical uses of the plant are many. Lindley says the root is diuretic and anti-syphilitic; as a cordage it is extremely tough, but the leaves have many more uses. When the expressed juice of the leaves is evaporated the residue is said to be useful as a soap The whole leaves are used by the poorer classes of South America instead of writing paper, and also for thatching their houses. If the inner leaves of the plant are cut out just before the flower scape bursts forth, the sap flows abundantly. This has an agreeable sour taste, but soon ferments, is called ' pulque,' and has the odor of putrid meat. Europeans who have overcome their repugnance to the odor are said to prefer ' pulque ' to any other beverage. From it is made the fiery brandy known as ' aguardiente,' which has been a considerable source of revenue to the Mexican government. From three cities it collected a net sum of £166,497, equal to about $832,485.
" The fibre of the leaves is made into cordage which is extremely strong. Humboldt describes a bridge with a span of 130 feet over the Chim-bo, in Quito, of which the main ropes, four inches in diameter, were made of Agave fibre. Orton says: ' the flowers make excellent pickles; the flower stalk is used for building; the pith of the stem is used by barbers for sharpening razors; the fibres of the leaves are woven into sandals and socks, and the sharp spines are used for needles.'
'* It has been supposed by some writers that the century plant was the one which was referred to by old Chinese historians in accounts given of a visit in the fifth century to the land of ' fu-sung,' supposed to be Mexico. Other writers have denied that the land of 'fusung' was Mexico, and contended that it was Japan, because the poetical name of Japan was ' fusung.' Still, the account says that the country visited lay ' twenty thousand li' to the east of China, and, as a li is equal to one-third of a mile, it is necessary to suppose Japan and China to be separated by over 6,000 miles, a rather improbable supposition. There is nothing very improbable in supposing that the Chinese crossed over to America by way of the Aleutian Islands, and they may have penetrated as far south as Mexico. The subject is fully discussed in the fifth volume of Bancroft's ' Native Races of the Pacific Coast,' to which I would refer anyone who wishes to investigate the subject further."