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Once upon a bloom

A “century plant” on the corner of Chetco Avenue and Fern Street in downtown Brookings sends up a 15-foot-tall stalk in preparation to bloom. The succulent rarely blooms and dies soon after it does. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
A “century plant” on the corner of Chetco Avenue and Fern Street in downtown Brookings sends up a 15-foot-tall stalk in preparation to bloom. The succulent rarely blooms and dies soon after it does. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
It took years for the cactus at the corner of Fern Street and Chetco Avenue in Brookings to store enough energy to bloom.

It will do so over the next couple of weeks, and then shrivel up and die.

For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event to see the towering century plant bloom. When conditions are ideal, it extends a thick stalk that can grow up to an inch every hour until it reaches a height of 25 feet or more. From there, broad branches emerge from the sides and clusters of bright yellow or white flowers bloom.

“They get big,” said Carrie Anderson, floral designer at Flora Pacifica. “I’ve seen several around in the past few years; they were gigantic.”

Currently, the cactus is about 15 feet tall — as of Thursday — but there’s still time before the flowers open and release seeds.

“He’ll probably grow-grow,” Anderson said of the Chetco Avenue succulent. “Things around here get huge. They don’t sleep; they just grow.”

And then the plant dies, leaving behind its seeds and possibly a “pup” or two at its base to continue the family line.

Century plants were so named under the misconception that they only bloom once every 100 years. They can bloom in as little as 10 years — it all depends on conditions — but will do so only once in their 10- to 30-year lifetime.

And when they begin to bloom, they often attract people from throughout the area to witness the short-lived event.

“They’re beautiful; they’re always beautiful,” Anderson said. 

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