Cactus puts on a street corner show
by Jon Mendelson
Apr 26, 2013 | 6604 views | 2 2 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Century cactus ready to bloom
Claudia Churchill, 79, looks over the stalk sprouting from the center of a century cactus growing in her front yard on Tuesday, April 23. Churchill expects the cactus to bloom sometime in the next few days.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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A once-in-a-lifetime event is taking place on Center Court Drive, and Claudia Churchill has a front-row seat.

An Agave americana — also known as a century plant, because of its long life-span — is preparing to bloom outside the 79-year-old Tracy resident’s house, sending into the air a 15-foot spire that will eventually flower on the southern corner of Center Court and Cypress drives.

Churchill said Tuesday, April 23, that the succulent’s stalk began to shoot up from her garden about a week earlier, climbing more than a foot each day. It’s part of a blooming process that only happens after the cactus lives at least 10 years, and sometimes decades longer, according to “The Sunset Western Garden Book.”

“I looked out the window — it’s my daily chore at 5 o’clock in the morning — and I thought, ‘Somebody put a stick in my cactus. I’m going out there to take it down,’” she said, holding her hand about four feet off the ground. “It looked like a stick to me, because it was about this high.”

By Tuesday, a green spire reached higher than a nearby stop sign. But no flower yet peeked out from the shoot that could reach 40 feet in height.

“I have no idea when it will bloom,” Churchill said. “Everybody keeps coming by here, looking. … They comment, and they take pictures.”

Churchill, who moved to Tracy from Fremont in 1996, said it was the first time the cactus had done this since she transplanted it from a neighbor’s yard in 1998. It will also be the last.

Shortly after the century plant sends out flowers, it dies.

But Churchill wasn’t saddened by the prospect of losing it. She has several scions of the plant in her front-yard garden, alongside beds of golden poppies, desert primrose, hollyhock and at least six other types of cactus set amid sun-bleached rock.

“I have had people stop here and ask me if I would go and do their yards,” she said. “I said no, because if I put something out here and I don’t like it, I just redo it. I said, ‘You don’t have enough money to let me do that.’”

Churchill — who has driven a recreational vehicle across the United States, including through the cactus country of the Southwest — said she’s excited to see what her front-yard prize looks like when its flowers finally open.

“I can’t hardly wait till it blooms,” she said. “I didn’t know it bloomed — I didn’t know it did this. I just thought it would keep on going, but here it is.”

• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or
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May 06, 2013
Cool beans. If I am not mistaken one of these things is also growing about a half mile down from the top of Patterson Pass road on the Livermore side. It can be seen when traveling up from the Livermore side.
April 29, 2013
How exciting! Will you post the picture when it blooms! I sure would not want to miss the bloom especially when it takes that long!

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