In its native Chile, Puya chiensis uses its enormous neon spikes to trap sheep in the Andes mountains. After razor-sharp spines on the tips of its leaves ensnare the animal, it starves to death and decomposes at the base of the plant, becoming its favored fertilizer.
This Puya chilensis has been growing at the RHS garden for 15 years, and has reached nearly ten feet tall. Each individual blossom measures about two inches across and contains enough nectar for a person to drink. It is expected to remain in bloom for about a week.
“I’m really pleased that we’ve finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower," said Cara Smith, who looks after the plant at RHS Garden Wisley. "We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic," she said.
Puya chilensis is not considered threatened and can still be found in Chile, though habitat loss due to fire does occur. The plant’s taste for sheep also prompts shepherds to search for the plants and set fire to them to protect their flocks.
But those visiting the garden don't have to worry about losing their children to the plant's spines. Smith said the plant is "growing in the arid section of our Glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike."
RHS said very few specimens of Puya chilensis were known to have flowered in the U.K., perhaps due to its unique diet. The National Botanic Garden of Wales waited 11 years for its plant to bloom, though some specimens bloom yearly in the Isles of Scilly.