Three-story cactus in Chase is blooming, likely to die soon

06/24/2012 5:00 AM

06/25/2012 6:41 AM

CHASE — The finality is starting to sink in.

“It is falling apart,” said a crestfallen Ed Ward. “Well, it is just doing like it is supposed to do.”

The three-story Agave americana plant that Ed and Joyce Ward of Chase have carefully tended for the past 36 years is dying.

The Kansas winds and searing summer temperatures are taking their toll. This type of plant, which normally grows in the southwest, is popularly known as the century plant because it lives about 30 to 40 years, blooms, and then dies.

In recent months, though, this particular plant and the Wards have made national news in part because of the plant’s size and because it is blooming in the middle of Kansas, of all places.

Ed gave the plant to Joyce in 1976 as a Mother’s Day gift. Although they had already had three children by then, it was his first Mother’s Day gift to her.

Under their care, the plant thrived. Over the years, it was transplanted into 10 different containers. The last one is an 8-foot-by-8-foot container built into a trailer that their grandson, Jaron Miller, made in his welding class at Chase High School.

By Ed’s calculations, the plant, trailer and soil weigh about 7,000 pounds now.

It sits like a sentinel guarding the sliding garage door at Farley Machine Works, an oilfield repair shop on the edge of Chase where Ed works as the shop foreman.

“It is better than I am today,” Joyce Ward said.

Although the top of the plant still has to bloom, Ed thinks it may not bloom in time. He believes it is a matter of days, if not hours, before the plant will be dead.

“The center of the plant is giving way,” he said. “The leaves are folding down to the ground.”

Banana-shaped pods hang in clusters off its stem. Those that have bloomed look like tiny, spidery flowers.

Each day, travelers on U.S. 56 stop and visit the plant.

“Every day I go down and check on it,” Joyce said. “Each day it looks a little different.”

On Sunday, she said, one of the little stems of the plant had cracked. Sap dripped on the leaves.

“You stick your finger in it and it’s sticky and sweet,” she said.

Ed has gone through almost Herculean efforts to save the plant. A bucket truck has been called in, twice. Tow straps and ropes have been tied from the Farley Machine Works building to the plant to help stabilize it in the heat and wind.

Two baby plants that sprung up at the base of the mighty plant gave Ed hope that the plant could carry on.

“Somebody stole them about a week ago,” he said. “I was saving those for my daughter and niece. If they would have just asked, I probably could have given them the plants. It’s just the idea somebody would take them.”

The Wards do have a tiny offshoot of the plant growing safely at their house.

Do they plan on taking care of it?

“Well, if it takes another 36 years, I’ll be 110 then,” Ward said.

Joyce says, “I tell my grandkids this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

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