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Century plant is a very large, distinctive-looking succulent plant with the bases of the leaves at ground level. The leaves are up to 2m long, fleshy and triangular in cross section. They are grey-green in colour and have coarse, spiky teeth on their margins. After 10 to 15 years, century plant produces a large, woody spike up to 10m tall with many yellow flowers at the tip. Black seeds are produced in 5cm-long capsules. Century plant thrives in open, dry sites, such as coastal cliffs and sand dunes.
Young plants are tolerant of salt water, and it can out-compete dune plants in open sites. It is slow-growing and dies after flowering. Century plant can spread laterally through its root system and vegetatively from runners that detach from the parent plant, and although it produces seeds, it does not appear to spread readily in this manner.