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It’s been a long time coming for this queen

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The top section of the flower stalk is loaded with buds. Photo by Diane Valden

COPAKE—They never treated it like royalty. They thought it was just some kind of cactus.

But when it started acting strange, this plant got their attention.

Thirty years ago, maybe more, Diane and Tom Cinque bought a little plant that looked sort of like an artichoke, except the leaves were darker green and edged in white.

Mr. Cinque likes cactuses, he told The Columbia Paper in an interview this week. He has several and he thought it would make a nice addition to his collection.

Sitting in a cozy sunroom off the deck of their Copake home, they told a reporter they don’t remember where they picked it up, maybe a nursery in New Jersey when they were visiting friends.

They do know it came in a four-inch pot and it didn’t cost more than three bucks.

Every year since they’ve had the plant, Mr. Cinque has followed the same routine: giving it a little water, a little fertilizer; putting it outside on the deck when the weather warms up and bringing it inside the sunroom when the weather gets cold.

The sunroom is not heated and the temperature can get down to 20 degrees in the winter.

He has repotted the plant a few times over the years, so now it’s in a 16-inch pot on wheels. The plant itself is about a foot high and wide.

This year, not too long after the plant took up residence outdoors in May, it started sprouting a long thin stalk from the middle of its rosette.

Initially, they just thought it was odd since the plant had never done that before. But they became more and more intrigued as the stalk kept growing and growing.

Though not quite of beanstalk proportions, the now towering 12 to 15-foot high stalk is almost as tall as the roof of their one-story house. The sturdy two-inch diameter stalk is covered with long thin needle-like hairs and the top three feet or so of the stalk is laden with hundreds of buds.

Though they don’t use a computer much, the situation called for a visit to the internet to find out what was going on.

They discovered their plant was not a cactus at all, but a succulent called: Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoriae-reginae).

“This rare, striking agave, named for Queen Victoria in England,” according to horticultureunlimited.com, “is native to Coahuila, Durango and Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where it is recognized as an endangered species.”

The website: hellogardening.co.uk says this “giant succulent is also known as the Royal Victoria Century Plant because it was thought that it took 100 years to flower. In reality the Agave victoriae-regina can take 10 to 30 years to flower.

“… It sends up a huge flower stalk almost like a flagpole … with yellow flowers branching off, this process can take 20 weeks.”

But the excitement and anticipation leading up to the bloom is somewhat bittersweet, because the plant will die at the end of the process.

An October 5, 2019 story on the www.cbc.ca/news website titled, “A momentous event: Rare plant set to bloom for 1st time—and then die,” says, “It’s an event that literally happens once in a lifetime. The Queen Victoria agave at Carleton University [Ottawa, Canada] is due to bloom any day now—for the first and last time in its roughly 30-year life.

“‘It’s rare to have one,’ said Edward Bruggink, manager of the university’s greenhouse. ‘It comes from Mexico. It flowers once in its lifetime, then it dies completely.’

Tom and Diane Cinque are pictured with the rosette (base) of their Queen Victoria agave. Notice the stalk standing between them. Photo by Diane Valden

“The gardener said it’s hard to estimate the plant’s exact age, with some living up to 50 years before flowering.”

Mr. Cinque finds the whole thing incredible, repeatedly wondering aloud, “How does the plant know to do that?”

Asked if they would have done anything differently had they known what a spectacle they would be in for in 30 years, they reflect, they may have “killed it with kindness instead of just letting it be.”

Now retired, Mrs. Cinque, who was in the insurance then banking business and Mr. Cinque, who worked in construction as an electrician, have lived in Copake for 50 years. They have watched many kinds of nature scenes unfold with wildlife wandering through and lingering in their backyard over the years. But they intend to savor this upcoming natural performance because they believe they will never see it again.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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