The Durfee Conservatory
Durfee Conservatory

History: 1893 - The Century of the Durfee


Specimen currently displayed at Durfee.

One of the most fascinating structural additions to the new Durfee was the celebrated glass tower. Constructed to accommodate the flower stalk of a venerable specimen of Agave americana, the structure rose from the center of Durfee like a lighthouse keeping watch over a sea of glass and plants. The plant it admirably displayed had an interesting lineage and its Victorian caretakers took great pains to do it justice. Originally propagated in 1825 at the old Ames homestead in Chicopee, Mass., the plant was passed by inheritance through several influential owners. Eventually it made its way as a gift to the college into the Durfee palm house in 1867. Here it grew for the next 26 years until just before its 68th birthday.

Then to the delight of many, it began to show signs of flowering, its reputation of a 100-year lapse between blossoms not withstanding. The plant was moved and a tower rose above the greenhouse in anticipation. The interest this event aroused was considerable. The observation tower was provided with a staircase going up and around the flower stalk and had several viewing platforms. It may have been the only greenhouse ever constructed for a single flower stalk. The curious came in droves.

The plant was weighed—nearly 2,000 pounds—had its more than 3,000 buds counted, and was viewed by countless visitors. Perhaps the thought of experiencing the 'very intoxicating but offensive smelling juice' rendered from the cutting out of the central bud was too exciting for the tourists of the day to miss. The century plant had its glorious day and its own glass high tower courtesy of an appreciative college. In 1893 M. A. C. would also win a Grand Prize at the St. Louis World's Fair for its Agricultural Exhibit.