Being Semelparous

A FEW MORNINGS AGO, ON MY WAY TO WORK, I heard a story on NPR® about a plant that I suddenly felt a kinship to. It's called an American Agave plant.

Kinship to a plant? Maybe all this Whole Foods® shopping, yoga, juicing and listening to NPR® is getting to me.

This plant is grayish and prickly--kind of like me. It's nickname is the Century plant, although it seldom lives that long. Correlation? I think it sounds good to live as if I could live a century, but I really have no desire to do so.

 American Agave Plants

American Agave Plants

Here's the part that really intrigued me though: when it flowers, it has big, spectacular flowers that can reach up to 8 feet tall, or more. I like that! Here's the problem: it's semelparous!

I had to look that one up: "Semelparity and iteroparity refer to the reproductive strategy of an organism. A species is considered semelparous if it is characterized by a single reproductive episode before death, and iteroparous if it is characterized by multiple reproductive cycles over the course of its lifetime." --Wikipedia

In other words, after this plant finally does it big flowery production (which can take up to 50 years or more), it DIES--sort of a One Hit Wonder.

It started me thinking, you know, about living life. Would I prefer to be known for something big and then fade or flame out. Or would I rather be a guy that just sort of lives a good, consistent, generative life?

The Tour De France is on. I know, I saw about 5 seconds of it as I was clicking through the channels to see what else is on. I thought of Lance Armstrong. WOW! He was huge and spectacular before he got his pants caught in his chain, so to speak. Too much for fertilizer for that plant, if you get my meaning.

I don't want to be like Lance, or Lebron for that matter. But take a guy like Sheriff Andy Taylor. Andy never rose to anything but sheriff of Mayberry and Opie's dad, but in 30 minutes, once a week for many, many years, he re-humanized most everyone in Mayberry. Yes, I know he's fictional.

For me one of the biggest One Hit Wonders of my era was a song called, "Wipe Out" by The Safaris. I guess you could say it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts for The Safaris, because it was their only big hit. But what a hit it was. I am confident that every young drummer, like myself, who grew up in the 60s became a better drummer because of the hours of practice to learn the Wipe Out drum solo and develop the hand speed to play it. To this day, you play Wipe Out for an aspiring percussion student, and they will determine to learn that solo.

Which brings us back to the semelparous American Agave plant: don't feel too sorry for it, because, you see, it also produces little suckers, adventitious shoots from its base, which continue the legacy so to speak.

We have two sons, a daughter-in-law, three Grand-Girls. I am so proud and grateful for all these little "suckers", and thanks to them, I may burn out or wipe out, but I know I won't fizzle out.

Now do you see why I feel sort of kin to this plant? I haven't been drinking to much kale/wheatgrass/ginger juice.