The Puya chilensis as it prepares to bloom (E Grant/RHS)
A rare Puya chilensis was planted at a greenhouse in Surrey about 15 years ago. However, despite its intimidating description, the tall, spiked plant is considered a threatened species.
The Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley has been feeding the plant a diet of liquid fertilizer. “In its natural habitat in the Andes it uses its razor sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other animals, which slowly starve to death and decay at the base of the plant, providing it with the grizzly equivalent of a bag of fertiliser,” reads a description on the RHS website, which adds that the plant emits a “gruesome scent.”
But does the plant actually trap and eat sheep? Other sources have simply said it is “believed” that the plant traps small animals with its spikes. After the animals die of starvation, the plant is "believed" to then use their decaying bodies as fertilizer to feed itself.
"I'm really pleased that we've finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower," horticulturalist Cara Smith said in a press release on the RHS site.
Regardless of whether it actually traps sheep, the plant does have sharp spikes that can grow up to 12 feet high and 5 feet wide. However, it’s not all death and danger for this plant. Its flowery blooms reportedly provide nectar for bees and birds.
The Puya chilensis blooms annually in its native land of Chile, but this is the first time it has done so after more than a decade of cultivation efforts from the RHS.
"We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic,” Smith said.
"It's growing in the arid section of our glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike."
A blooming Puya chilensis with its spikes exposed (Getty Images)
- Nature & Environment
- Puya chilensis