By Jackie Salas, Children’s Fairyland’s horticulturalist

When I started working at Children’s Fairyland, I knew that the grounds were special. It was apparent that many gardeners over the last sixty-plus years had taken pride in their jobs, and had planted some of their favorite plants to share with visitors. During my initial orientation with the 10-acre property, I was lucky to find an eclectic mix of plants, some common, some unique, and some forgotten by the modern nursery trade that I couldn’t even identify.

Through two growing seasons, I have become comfortable with the grounds and have begun to take pride in them myself. This pride was recently bolstered when, over the holiday season, the gardens surprised us with a special gift. In November, I noticed that a plant, listed as an agave on a handwritten map from 1999, was shooting up a flower stalk that one of my co-workers described as looking “like a giant asparagus stalk.” I kept an eye on this shoot, and before long it had grown twenty-five feet!

agave (false) close up

As it began to branch and flower, I became more and more confused. I knew this plant had to be in the agave family, but its flowers looked nothing like an agave. The flowers that hung down from the branches of the flower stalk were greenish-white, and had an intoxicating tropical fragrance. What could this exotic plant be?

As it turns out, someone in Fairyland’s past decided to plant a special specimen plant called a false agave or furcraea. These plants are not your garden variety; they grow for years — sometimes decades — before they reach a mature size and send up a giant flower stalk, like century plants do. The huge stalk will bloom for a short time and then reproduce by growing small plantlets called bulbils off of the flower shoot, which will drop to the ground and root into the soil near the mother plant. After flowering and dropping the bulbils, the mother plant will die, having finished the culminating events in its unique life cycle. The gardener that planted this specimen knew that he would not be working at Fairyland to see the spectacle, but planted it for the future.

Well, that future is now, and the furcraea blossom is in full splendor, producing both flowers and bulbils. I don’t know how much longer the flowers will last, but I feel very fortunate to be here to appreciate this plant’s beauty and significance, both as an interesting plant specimen, and as a symbol for the care and stewardship prior gardeners have given to our 64-year-old grounds. What a special New Year’s gift for Children’s Fairyland!

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

2 Responses

  1. Lizzy

    Are there plans to save any of the bulbils? Would be a great opportunity for gardeners in the community to “pay” the legacy forward.

    Reply
  2. Fairyland

    We’re actually thinking of hosting a show & tell of the furcraea next Saturday, 2/1 before the park opens to the public! Check out our FB page for more!

    Reply

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