Sheep-eating plant begins to flower at Royal Botanical Gardens
For the first time since 1986, a plant from South America with an impressive flower spike is beginning to bloom at Royal Botanical Gardens’ (RBG) Mediterranean Garden. Puya chilensis is a native to the arid hillsides of Chile, particularly the Andes and on north facing mattoral slopes 300 to 1000 metres above sea level. This plant grows slowly and as a result can take twenty years or more to flower. The bright green flowers are produced on impressive spikes which can grow up to two meters in height. It is an evergreen perennial forming rosettes of greyish green, long, narrow leaves with razor sharp, hooked spines. These spines are likely an adaptation to prevent herbivores browsing on the plant.
In its natural habitat P. chilensis is thought to be hazardous to sheep and birds which may become entangled in the spines of the leaves. If the animal remains ensnared, cannot escape and dies the plant may gain nutrients as the animal decomposes. This has yet to be proven but if true would make P. chilensis a protocarnivorous plant. It has also earned this plant the common name sheep eating plant.