Do you have a plant that’s doing way better than you expected? Me neither. But the Garfield Park Conservatory does. She’s a 35-year old Agave guiengola named Guien (pronounced “gwen”) and has grown 20 feet tall (more than half the height of the Bean).
She is also dying.
Near the end of its life, an agave plant shoots up a tall, flowering stalk called a quiote — a dramatic death bloom. Guien’s quiote is much taller than experts anticipated. “When we first did the research on it, [the literature] said 4 to 6 feet tall,” Chicago Park District spokesperson Irene Tostado told WBEZ. “Its growth in captivity is already a phenomenon.”
On Dec. 6, Ray Jorgensen, a floriculturist at the conservatory, saw that Guien’s stalk had started to spike. He first noted her height in the margins of the conservatory’s Desert Room log on Dec. 15. Her stalk had fully emerged and she stood at 36 inches, just under three feet. By Christmas, her stalk’s height had more than doubled to seven feet. A few days later, buds had emerged up and down the quiote.
On New Year’s Eve, at just over 10 feet, Guien had surpassed her estimated maximum height.
As of Feb. 1, she stands at 20 ft. 1 in. — about a third of the enormous Puerto Rican flag on Paseo Boricua in Humboldt Park or three of Andersonville’s Dala Horse statues stacked on top of each other.
Guien is not the tallest agave plant in the conservatory’s history of care. Maya, an Agave americana distinct from Agave guiengola, grew straight through the Desert Room’s 25-foot ceiling to a staggering 38 feet in 2019.
That’s three feet taller than the city’s Chinatown Gate.
Even if Guien isn’t through the roof (yet), she’s close and still worth a visit. The conservatory even posted a singing TikTok video to their Instagram page inviting folks to see the triumphant plant — “our best Agave friend” — in person before she dies: “She’s reaching for the sky before she says goodbye!”
You can see Guien in all her glory at the Garfield Park Conservatory (300 N. Central Park Ave.; garfieldconservatory.org) for free with a reservation on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. or Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Follow Garfield Park Conservatory @gpconservatory and its Agave Watch Instagram highlights for updates.