A LONELY asparagus plant sprouted 17ft in a month – bursting through a glasshouse roof – a few months after its keeper left.
The 8ft-high plant at St Andrews Botanic Garden, which had not flowered for 40 years, grew to 25ft after Chris Talbot hung up his gardening gloves.
Amazingly, Chris had worked at the garden in the Fife town for four decades, tending the same plant from its earliest days.
The director of the St Andrews Botanic Garden said he believed the Dasylirion Lieophyllum, part of the asparagus family, responded to Chris’s departure as a defence mechanism.
The giant stem now towering above the glasshouse is actually the flower of the plant, which is cactus-like and normally found in more arid climates.
A pane of glass had to be taken from the roof to accommodate the stalk. It is now thought to be the biggest of its kind in the UK.
Chris, 59, from St Andrews, left his job at the end of last year. Dasylirion Lieophyllum usually flower in the summer and this year the St Andrews plant flowered for the first time – and kept going.
Garden director James Hearsum said: “This is the first time it’s flowered since it’s been there.
“Plants often react to changes around them and the person who worked in the glass house retired at Christmas.
“We’ve followed all of the regimes but there is maybe a slight change, maybe the amount of water or the regularity.
“They kind of go into flower as a defence, as a reaction. I think it was the changeover, a change of regime.”
He added: “When I took the glass pane off I only expected it to grow another 2 or 3 foot whereas this thing has kept going.
“The literature we have said it could be a 15-ft flower spike but this is 25-ft and growing.”
He added: “This is the first time it’s flowered since it’s been there. He worked for us that entire period.
“He lives in St Andrews and he’s come to see it, he’s quite proud of it.”
But it seems former keeper Chris Talbot does not miss the plant as much as it misses him.
Mr Talbot said: “I worked at the Botanic Garden for 43 years.
“It just decided to flower when I left. I was quite successful looking after the cactuses, getting them to flower, but never that one.
He added: “I wasn’t too fussed about it, it’s not too special looking. It was a jaggy plant, I know that.
“It looks better now.”
He added: “Basically I watered it once a week and that was it. “
Mr Hearsum said the plant was not a cactus as had been suggested, despite its looks.
He said: “The plant itself is 8ft high. It’s a succulent in the asparagus family. It’s pretty striking.
“It’s like a spiky, narrow-leaved monocot with some pretty mean spikes on it.”
After it flowers, the stalk will die off and Mr Hearsum hopes that it will not smash the glass on the way down.
He said it was “significantly bigger” than another Dasylirion Lieophyllum at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, which has shot up in the past few days.
He said: “I do know the Royal Botanic gardens have just taken a pane of glass out, but their plant is just a few inches out.
“Ours is significantly bigger.”