MONTGOMERY, Ala. — When Sharall Williams' century plant finally bloomed 12 years after being planted, she had no idea people would want to eat her flowers.
Despite its name, the century plant, a type of agave also known as maguey, actually takes between 10 and 20 years to bloom before almost immediately dying, withering away and leaving room for the young shoots to grow.
Apparently the flowers are a delicacy worth waiting for.
Williams' plant is a sort of legacy, a clipping from her mother's own century plant.
"My mother had one, and I love flowers. I got a piece and I planted it," Williams said.
Twelve years later, Williams was finally able to enjoy the yellow flowers sitting impressively atop a 20-foot stalk.
Then came the knocks on the door from passers-by all asking the same question: Can I buy one of those flowers?
"People have been coming by here buying the flowers. See up there where there are no more blooms? They've been paying $20 for one bloom," Williams said.
Williams has a second century plant in her front yard, and the recently bloomed plant will die soon anyway.
In short, she was not particularly attached to the flowers. She'll have more in 10 or so years.
Still, she had to ask what they were buying the flowers for.
"They eat it," Williams said incredulously as she was retelling the story. "They said they boil it and put it in white beans. They said it's real good."
Williams said it was mostly members of the local Hispanic community that recognized and wanted to purchase the flowers. After getting approval from Williams, a few men arrived with a ladder and a machete to scale the giant stalk in search of what can only be magical golden buds.
All told, Williams sold about 13 of the flower clusters at $20 apiece. Those buying the flowers even offered to pay an extra $20 for potted clippings of the plant.
Williams did not have a way to contact those buying the flowers, but after asking around a local grocery store, one woman, Petrona Dia-Hernandez, affirmed the flower's place in the kitchen.
"It's good. It tastes great. You can put them on chicken or in eggs," Dia-Hernandez said.
Williams has not tried cooking with the flowers herself -- and has no desire to -- but the flowers are evidently worth waiting a decade or more for.
Agaves such as the century plant are known for the sweetness of their meaty, fibrous leaves. Dia-Hernandez said the flowers share that sweetness while also pairing well with savory vegetables.
Of course many more people spoken to had never heard of the century plant let alone the century plant flower, but for those who enjoy this rare blossom, maybe that's a good thing.
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com