FERRIER FILES: Miracle 22-foot plant grows against all odds in middle Tennessee

Submitted to FOX 17 News

There is a plant that doesn't even grow in middle Tennessee -- But if you drive out to Swiss Colony road in Hohenwald, there it stands a testament to determination and the passion of a middle Tennessee gardener.

Agave Americana, a plant that normally grows in arid regions of Mexico, is thriving in the Hohenwald yard of Elaine Churchwell.

Churchwell bought the plant at a flea market in Gulf Shores, Alabama in 2006. The vendor was very honest. She told Elaine the plant will die in Tennessee and that it cannot survive even a single freeze.

“I bought it anyway. As I was leaving she said, ‘will do me a favor, will you name it after me,’ I said, ‘what's your name,’ ‘Henrietta,’ Henrietta it is,” Elaine said.

The Agave Americana is an unusual plant. It takes anywhere from 12 to 20 years to bloom. It blooms once and then it dies.

“The first year it grew so much I really got attached and so I hated for it to die, so I convinced my husband to build a little greenhouse,” Elaine said. “It kept it alive that first winter.”

Every year, the plant and the greenhouse grew bigger. The couple put a thermometer in the makeshift greenhouse to monitor temperature.

Somehow it worked. The plant never got below 40 degrees. The greenhouse, the pavement, the house blocking the north wind -- it all worked together to create a gardening miracle.

All the while husband John assembling, disassembling and enlarging the makeshift greenhouse. His motivation was very different than Elaine's.

“I am the ‘honey do,’” John laughed.

The plant that no one expected to live has reached 22 feet in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

“People are driving by and taking pictures, we put an article in the paper… it has just been a showstopper,” Elaine said.

That 22-foot stalk was a one inch nub in mid-May, but after some weeks, it grew three feet.

It will bloom any day now and then die, leaving behind a whole litter of pups, baby agaves under the massive leaves. The Churchwell’s enjoyed a front row seat for every step.

“I am sad and glad it’s going to die,” Elaine said. “But I am glad because I would never have seen it.”

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