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Scientific Name: Puya berteroniana
The Chilean section at the lower right area of the Rock Garden.
The plant kingdom at its flamboyant best - two metre tall spikes covered in iridescent blooms with petal and pollen colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel. Unusual in form and colour and always popular with our garden visitors.
Marianne North, Artist and Explorer, visited Chile in the summer of 1884-1885 and her oil painting of flowering puya plants on a north-facing slope, accompanied by cactus, left us with an ecological record long before that branch of science was fully established. You can see this painting at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, website in the Marianne North online gallery.
Still on their adventure from the foothills of the Chilean Andes in South American to our Rock Garden, just east of the large pond in the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah are majestic specimens of this Pineapple Plant Family member.
Seeds were collected in Vilches Alto National Park, Chile, by Botanic Gardens staff in 1985 from exposed rocky outcrops at about 1300 m altitude. Planting occurred in the late winter of 1987 with first flowering in the spring of 1993. Splendid annual flowering events until 2008 were followed by no flowers at all in 2009! So, we were very pleased to see them back on stage in 2010 and to see the 2011 blooming of more than 20 spikes commencing with just a few flowers on 22 October in time for the 172nd anniversary of Marianne North's birth on the 24th.
With around 185 species, Puya is one of the largest genera in Bromeliaceae. Most of its species are concentrated along the Andes mountain range of South America, some at altitudes close to 5000 metres. Very few Puya species have become popular in cultivation. Puya berteroniana is one of the southernmost species and consequently more frost-hardy than many others. The silvery rosette of leaves has hooked prickles running along the edges, which tend to tear rather than scratch. These are presumed to be a defence against browsing animals. Therefore, admire the floral spectacle but do not get too close.